Ryanair flight FR8582 left Stansted airport a little late at 5.19pm on Friday afternoon, but was still expected to arrive in Thessaloniki before 10pm – in time for a drink by the harbourside in Greece’s second city.
But while the Boeing 737 was over the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, about 125 miles from its destination, fog at the Greek airport triggered a diversion. Thessaloniki airport is adjacent to the Thermaic Gulf, and susceptible to fog.
The obvious diversion airport was Skopje, serving the Macedonian capital – from which overland transport to the intended destination would have been straightforward.
But instead the aircraft, with nearly 200 passengers on board, flew northeast into Bulgarian airspace. It passed close to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, but did not land there.
The track then switched northwest, back towards Stansted, and eventually the aircraft landed at Timisoara in northwest Romania. The city is close to the Hungarian border and nearly 500 miles – and two international frontiers – from Thessaloniki.
The inbound flight from Thessaloniki to Stansted due late on Friday night was cancelled. It is understood the diverted aircraft returned empty from Timisoara to Stansted.
It has been suggested that the decision was taken because Ryanair has a base at the Romanian airport, making service recovery easier.
But on social media passengers and their loved ones claimed that the airline had failed in its duty of care to them.
Sanji Hewson tweeted: “My parents & 200 passengers of FR8582 @Ryanair from LDN to SKG [Thessaloniki’s airport code] have been stranded in Timisoara airport due to weather. No one in sight and no one answering phones. Babies and elderly spending the night in the cold.”
Passenger Christine Kyr tweeted: “The people are abandoned in Timisoara airport without being given any alternatives. The airport staff is forcing them to leave.”
She added that the airline “is only offering one ‘solution’ to the passengers of FR8582 and that is to get on an old bus for 18 hours with the same driver.”
Ryanair’s terms state: “If, for reasons outside our control, we are unable to land at the airport at your destination and are diverted so as to land at another airport then the carriage by air shall, unless the aircraft continues to the original destination, be deemed to be completed when the aircraft arrives at that other airport.
“We shall, however, arrange or designate alternative transportation, whether by our own services or by other means of transportation specified by us to carry you to the original destination as set out in your confirmation/itinerary without additional cost.” Eighty-nine passengers refused to take the bus, and instead spent the night at the airport.
In the end, the Greek government sent an Aegean Airlines aircraft to Timisoara, which flew passengers to Thessaloniki, where they arrived nearly 24 hours later than scheduled.
Other viable diversion airports included Athens and Tirana, the Albanian capital.
The Independent has contacted Ryanair for a response.
Because the cause of the diversion was poor weather, there is no entitlement to cash compensation under EU air passenger rights.
The latest fiasco came after Ryanair was voted the worst airline serving the UK for the sixth year in a row. The low-cost airline scored a customer rating of just 40 per cent in the Which? annual survey.
Participants were asked to rate airlines on boarding, seats, comfort, refreshments and the cabin environment.
Out of the 7,901 respondents who were asked if there was one airline with which they would never travel, 70 per cent named Ryanair.