Passengers were allegedly furious after a Virgin Atlantic aircraft to New York was forced to return to London after it was discovered that the co-pilot had not completed his final exam and hence was not eligible to fly.
On Monday, the Airbus A330 was about 40 minutes into its trip to JFK Airport when the two pilots noticed a “rostering fault,” as the airline later described it.
According to Virgin Atlantic, the captain is not a designated trainer and was not qualified to fly with a co-pilot who had not completed Virgin Atlantic training requirements.
After returning to Heathrow, the first officer was replaced, and the flight continued on to New York, arriving two hours and forty minutes late.
Both initial crew members were properly certified and qualified, according to The Washington Post, with the captain characterized as “very experienced” with “many thousands of hours of flight time during 17 years with Virgin Atlantic.”
A “final assessment” trip was scheduled for the first officer, who joined the company in 2017.
Flight VS3 was canceled due to a “rostering fault,” according to Virgin Atlantic.
“The qualified first officer, who was flying alongside an experienced captain, was replaced with a new pilot to ensure full compliance with Virgin Atlantic’s training protocols, which exceed industry standards,” a rep has Said.
But the cockpit conundrum didn’t sit well with the passengers, who were forced to wait on the tarmac at Heathrow while a replacement co-pilot was found.’
According to the site, passengers were also not reimbursed for the delay because compensation is only given if an aircraft arrives four hours late and the company is at fault.
Julie and Marc Vincent, a British couple from Bournemouth, recalled the dramatic change of events.
“We’d just cleared the west coast of Ireland when the captain announced, ‘You may have noticed that we have conducted a 180-degree turn’ before telling us that we were returning to Heathrow due to a ‘administration error’ and that they needed to get some paperwork signed off legally to be able to continue our journey,” Julie said.
“We landed back at Heathrow and were naturally concerned as you would expect that a large, long-established company such as Virgin needed to get their paperwork in order,” she said.
“I was also upset at losing holiday time as my husband and I were only in New York for three nights. We asked what was going on numerous times and all we were told was that it wasn’t legal for us to be in the air and that we needed to return so an engineer could deem us fit to fly. They said it was a problem with paperwork that needed attention from ground staff,” Julie kept going.
She said “panic did set in onboard,” with some passengers pacing up and down the plane to try to get more information.
Meanwhile, she added, flight attendants started distributing in-flight meals to passengers on the tarmac.
“The decision was taken and announced to us that the airline was going to feed us our in-flight meal on the ground. They began serving first-class passengers with only one cart, which took a long time, but the plane took off again before we could be serviced,” Julie stated.
“If they had continued to feed us all as promised, we would have been outside of the four-hour delay compensation window and Virgin would have had to pay greater compensation to each passenger. Only this morning did I realize that the hold-up was due to the first officer not having completed his training. “Immense,” she continued.