British Airways passengers sleep at Venice airport

British Airways tail fins
Image caption The passengers have now returned to London

British Airways has apologised after about 140 UK-bound passengers spent the night at a Venice airport because cabin crew had worked their maximum hours.

They slept on the floor of Marco Polo Airport without food and drink after their flight to London Gatwick left with no passengers on board.

BA said it could not find hotel rooms for passengers or the cabin crew.

It said the passengers, who returned to London earlier on a replacement aircraft, would be given compensation.

'Locked up'

Wednesday's flight had been due to take off shortly after 22:30 (20:30 GMT) but was delayed because of a technical fault.

This meant the crew had already worked their maximum hours for the day, even though the pilots were able to fly the plane back to London.

The passengers, including a number of children, spent the night at the airport - with some suggesting that staff locked the doors and locked up their luggage.

Kat Davis, from Hemel Hempstead, was at the airport for 14 hours and described the situation as "absolute chaos".

"It was a ghost town," she told BBC London radio.

"They locked up the airport. They told us just before the staff left that the airport was locked and that we couldn't leave.

"Our bags were all locked up. There were people who had medication in bags that weren't allowed to get to it. There was a young family who couldn't get to children's stuff in a suitcase as well."

She said passengers were given no information by the airline.

'Safety of customers'

In a statement, BA said: "We're very sorry for the disruption faced by our customers and will work with them to provide compensation. We always do everything we can to avoid an overnight flight delay, but when this happens we offer hotel accommodation to those travelling with us.

"Unfortunately, due to the volume of visitors to Venice we could not secure any rooms for our customers or cabin crew.

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Media captionKat Davis, who was travelling with BA: 'It's been absolute chaos'

"The aircraft due to operate the flight to Gatwick was delayed into Venice because of a technical fault earlier in the day. Unfortunately this meant that the cabin crew responsible for the safety of our customers had exceeded their available working hours, and were unable to operate the flight back to London. The two pilots were still within their hours and returned the aircraft to London.

"We sent a replacement aircraft to Venice this morning to carry those affected customers back to Gatwick."

BA confirmed the flight carrying the passengers arrived at Gatwick at 13:35 BST.

EU regulations oblige airlines to pay compensation to passengers for certain cancellations and delays.

Last week a BA plane bound for Oslo turned back to Heathrow and made an emergency landing after black smoke was seen coming from one of its engines.

Both runways were closed during the incident and short-haul flights were cancelled by the airline for several hours.

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