Flight W95752 had been due to depart Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport at 9.20pm on Sunday, headed for London Gatwick, but was delayed for around three hours, departing shortly after midnight on Monday instead.
Before take-off, Wizz Air crew informed passengers that they would be landing at Luton Airport instead of Gatwick, and made them wait an extra hour on the tarmac before departure as they added more fuel for the journey.
Then in a shock twist: about half an hour before landing in the UK - at around 3am on Monday - the crew informed passengers that they would actually be landing in Doncaster, Sheffield, more than 200 miles from their intended destination.
“It was only a few minutes before we landed - everyone was freaking out on the plane,” passenger Tal Dekel-Daks told The Independent. “There were already children and babies having a tough time with the descent - a lot of people onboard were Israeli and don’t know Doncaster. They were asking us if it’s in London.”
“They suddenly said there’s no parking spots in Luton or Gatwick so we’re going to land in Doncaster-Sheffield,” said Adar Cohen, another passenger on the flight.
“They said they had arranged a coach to take us from there to Gatwick. That’s the point where people started to get upset - one said if we’d known this, we would never have boarded that plane. We’d have stayed a bit longer for a plane that could get to Gatwick, or even Luton.”
Despite promises of a coach to take everyone the three-and-a-half hours back to Gatwick, passengers say that, on arrival, Doncaster-Sheffield staff told them there were no coaches.
“We went through passport control and there were just a few Wizz Air people about. Everyone was wondering ‘Where are these coaches?’ They then said we couldn’t get coaches, there was no availability. They advised us to get a taxi and keep the receipt. Then they disappeared! I don’t even know how they got out of there,” says Mr Cohen.
Instead, stressed out groups, including families with young children, had to pay hundreds for night time taxis south. Some ended up with a door-to-door journey time of more than 15 hours.
Father Luke Baker tweeted that he had been forced to pay £480 for a four-hour taxi back home in the early hours of Monday morning.
Ms Dekel-Daks says she and her brother joined a chaotic queue of hundreds at the taxi rank.
She managed to get a taxi to Doncaster Station and a train down to London shortly after 5am, while her brother paid £100 for a taxi to Nottingham.
“It was everyone fending for themselves. My brother got in a cab, but other people were trying to get in there. Lots of people didn’t even know where they were.”
Mr Cohen, who was travelling with his wife and two sons, aged 10 and 14, says there were several passengers on the plane with babies or children aged from about four to 10. His family managed to flag a taxi down for the three-hour journey back to Sydenham in southeast London, paying £260 and eventually arriving home at 8.30am.
“We had a wonderful cab driver, a very nice guy. It took about three and a quarter hours - I tried to stay awake with him to keep him company.”
Both say Doncaster Airport ground staff and local taxi drivers were scrambling to help the stranded passengers, while Wizz Air crew seemed to do a disappearing act after the promise of a coach home was retracted.
“There was one taxi driver who was calling around all of his taxi driver mates - a woman who worked for [Doncaster Airport management company] Swissport, not Wizz Air, was trying to help us but she didn’t really know what compensation they offered,” says Ms Dekel-Daks.
“Wizz Air staff said it would take a little time for coaches to arrive, and then it would take about three and a half hours to get back to Gatwick. I don’t remember the word ‘sorry’. It seemed to me they didn’t try too much to make themselves available - I imagine it was because they didn’t want to deal with angry customers,” says Mr Cohen.
He adds that his wife had also encountered astonishing delays with Wizz Air when flying out to Israel the week before - with a 24-hour delay in total, and a struggle getting any updates from the airline while she waited.
“Right now, the feeling is ‘Never again’. After my wife’s experience I was like, well these things can happen, it’s post-Covid, everyone’s figuring things out again. But after this - it can’t be that much of a coincidence. On my wife’s outbound journey, she could not get any information either. It felt like an institutional problem,” he says.
Ms Dekel-Daks agrees: “They didn’t give us anything when we were waiting on the tarmac for three hours [in Tel Aviv] - no water, no snacks. The trolley came around if you wanted to pay for something.
“I’ve never flown them before and I don’t think I would again.”
A Wizz Air spokesperson said: “Wizz Air sincerely apologises for the inconvenience and disruption that was caused by the rerouting of its flight W9 5752 from Tel Aviv to London Gatwick on Easter Monday 18 April.
“Due to Air Traffic Control staff shortages and absences at London Gatwick, it was unfortunately not possible for the flight to land at the airport as planned. As Doncaster Sheffield was the only airport which was able to help at such short notice, the flight was redirected to the airport.
“We did all we could do to help our customers get back to Gatwick, however the UK Easter holidays - and lack of available bus and train transfers - made this extremely difficult to manage. As a result, Wizz Air has now been in touch with all those affected passengers to apologise directly and accept claims for transportation to be reimbursed.”