‘Marvellous’ cruise turned into a nightmare for Daventry couple on New Year's Eve

“We were all really, really scared”

The "marvellous" trip of a Daventry couple took a turn for the worst, leaving "scared" and "hysterical" passengers stranded and sleeping on floors for more than a day before boarding a malfunctioning plane.

On December 23, Mary, 63, and John Smith, 62, embarked on their 15th Caribbean cruise with P&O Cruises.

Mary said: “We had a marvellous cruise. Up until the day of our return, there had been no issues at all. It was a lovely cruise, absolutely fantastic.”

The couple was scheduled to fly back to England at Gatwick Airport on December 30 on a Maleth Aero flight chartered by P&O. A cruise announcement was made that day at 9.30am stating that flights were delayed and passengers could use their cruise cabins until 4pm.

That caused the family no concern. After exploring St. John's in Antigua, they went back to the ship to be picked up and escorted to the airport.

When they arrived at the pick-up location, the captain reportedly announced to approximately 250 passengers that while other flights had experienced minor delays, the Gatwick flight was "very much delayed." Passengers were scheduled to be transported to the airport at 1am for a 4am departure.

“And that was it. That’s all we got told. No arrangements, nothing. We were left to fend for ourselves,” said Mary.

Mary has been battling cancer for more than 18 years, receiving a low-dose treatment every three months, while her spouse has a prolapsed disc. Both of them take medication.

Although their health issues are “manageable,” they needed to rest properly. John was “in quite severe pain with his back,” and the cruise and flight issues made that evening “very difficult.”

“There were elderly and disabled people with dementia and disabilities among the passengers dumped by P&O. I went to reception and explained our medical conditions,” said Mary.

After speaking with a senior officer, Mary reportedly discovered that the passengers had nowhere to sleep, no onboard credit, and no Wi-Fi from 6pm to 1am. She claims the captain and P&O had decided not to provide hotel rooms to the families.

“They provided water, tea, and coffee if you wanted to fetch them. It was a fair way for anybody who’s got mobility problems to go. We were all struggling,” said Mary.

Mary, joined by several other passengers, asked for pillows and blankets and spent the night in one of the bar areas.

A P&O spokesperson said: “Whilst it is certainly not how we would want our guests to end their holiday, we made arrangements for them to stay on the ship until check-in time, and we did everything we could to make them as comfortable as possible.”

Mary says there was a musical performance going on as they were attempting to get some rest in the top deck bar, and the newly arriving passengers had to navigate around them.

"It was incredibly noisy and really embarrassing when you’re laying there with blankets and pillows in a bar area with people going past. Their first impression of the ship couldn’t have been that nice. It was absolutely appalling,” said Mary.

John had "extreme" back pain, so Mary had made arrangements for a wheelchair for him when it was time to return to the pickup spot. She estimated that approximately 15 individuals used wheelchairs.

“There were no reasonable adjustments for anybody with disabilities at all. They were not interested at all,” said Mary.

The passengers were transported to the airport in time for their flights. Mary was reportedly informed by a staff member that no aeroplanes were going to depart the airport before 6am.

“Then it gets worse. Everybody is tired, has had no sleep, and is getting grouchy, which is understandable. People were putting cardboard boxes on the floor and laying on them, trying to get some sleep,” said Mary.

Mary added that the crew arrived at 4.30 am, and they boarded about an hour later.

“As the engine started to fire, there was a really strong smell of fuel. People were panicking and wanted to get off. Some passengers were hysterical. There was a family with little children who were so anxious about it,” said Mary.

The captain announced there was a problem with the aircraft.

“Outside one side of the window, you could see fluid spurring and pouring out from underneath the plane, and then on the other side, you could see engineers taking the properel apart.

“You could imagine what the emotions were like. We were all really, really scared,” said Mary.

The family had to wait several hours for the aircraft to be fixed, and 69 passengers who were too scared to stay were taken back to the airport with their luggage and stayed at their own expense.

A P&O spokesperson said: “We are so sorry that these guests experienced a flight delay at the end of their holiday. Our priority with our charter airline partners is always to get our guests underway as soon as possible.”

The plane took off around 10am.

“It was pretty erratic. It's not an experience we’d like to repeat. It was a horrific experience for us and our fellow cruisers. The last 28 hours have been an absolute challenge emotionally.

“My concern also was that our crew had only had a 12-hour rest break, and then they had to do an eight-hour flight plus a four-hour delay. They must’ve gone over their flying hours. They must’ve been exhausted,” said Mary.

Maleth Aero and VC Bird International Airport have been contacted for comment. The P&O Cruises contact details were the only response that VC Bird International Airport offered us.

A P&O spokesperson added: “On this occasion, the late incoming aircraft was delayed further due to the returning flight crew having their rest interrupted in their hotel prior to reporting for duty, and their rest time therefore needed to be extended.

“The operation of this sits with the airline, and whilst we are very sorry this delayed our guests, unfortunately, it is out of our control.”

The couple’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.