THE leader of a Winchester swimming club has criticised British Airways for “abandoning” a group of children when the flight they were on was diverted.

The children, who are members of Winchester City Penguins Swimming Club, were flying to Malaga in Spain and were due to arrive yesterday (Thursday, October 19) to take part in a self-funded swimming camp.

Due to stormy weather, the group, which consisted of 19 children and three adult chaperones, were instead diverted to Faro Airport in Portugal, more than 250 miles away from their intended destination.

Grant Robins, the CEO of Winchester City Penguins, said that the captain of the flight had reassured the group that ground crews would take care of them when the plane landed. However, when they arrived at the airport, they found it empty of staff.

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Mr Robins said that he felt like the children had been abandoned, saying: “There was no food, there was no water, there were no beds or hotels, there were no taxis, none of that sort of thing.

“Eventually, through a number of people within the swimming club, I was (already in Malaga), one of our parents in Winchester is Portuguese so he jumped on the phone trying to sort out some hotel or food, we got pizzas ordered and delivered to the airport. His 14-year-old daughter negotiated, in Portuguese, with taxi drivers to get the team to a hotel, which is 15 minutes away at the cost of £3,000.

“In fairness, the team had a night's accommodation, but we had no word from BA. I was ringing customer services, we had people back in Winchester ringing customer services but we had no response. There were no ground staff willing to listen at Faro Airport either.

“We eventually ended up securing three taxis, at another £3,000, to drive the team to Malaga.”

The delay in getting the children to Malaga has meant that they have missed a day of training. However, Mr Robins said the club is hoping to do as much of the training programme as possible before flying back to the UK on Thursday, October 26.

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He added that the experience has left him frustrated with British Airways. He said: “Their apathy towards their passengers is unbelievable.

“This is the first training camp that Winchester has done, so it needs to go well, and we want it to go well. We’re trying to develop the kids and give them skills for life. We planned it, risk assessed it, paid for it, we’ve done all of this.

“And when a big corporation like British Airways says ‘Sorry, we can’t help you’, it just doesn’t feel particularly good. It is not enough.”

British Airways has been contacted for comment.