British families stranded in Lapland as dream trip turns to nightmare when return flight is cancelled due to engine problemsMore than 200 passengers stranded for four hours on planeFamily tell how 1,700 Christmas dream holiday turned into 'disaster'Passengers left to queue in the 30 degree chill to see Santa
10:06 GMT, 24 December 2012
Hundreds of Brits on a day-trip to Lapland today feared they would not get home for Christmas after their return flight was cancelled.
The fed-up tourists were this afternoon waiting to find out when they would be flown home – nearly a whole day after their plane was due to take off.
More than 200 passengers were put up in a hotel near the airport in Kittila, Finland, last night – but only after spending more than four hours sitting in the stationary plane.
Ben and Michelle Courtney with their two children Kitty and George
Families were left waiting for four hours before being told they would have to stay overnight at a hotel
Desperate to get home are Ben and Michelle Courtney, who took their two older children on the day-trip – but left their 20-month-old twins behind.
Michelle, 30, said: 'This is my worst nightmare. We only left the twins because we thought we'd be back the same day.
'They are being looked after by my sister, but I've never left them this long and I'm desperate to get home.
'At the moment I've no idea when that will be, I'm not even sure we'll be back for Christmas. It's just awful.'
The couple from Eltham, south east London, paid 1,700 to take George, eight, who has autism, and Kitty, five, on the dream trip to see Father Christmas in Lapland.
Hairdresser Michelle, who booked the trip through Canterbury Travel, said: 'It was meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime fairytale trip, but it's been awful.
'Even the trip itself was disappointing. I thought Lapland was going to be magical, but it's been a disaster.
'We had to wait outside in minus 30 degrees in a queue to see Father Christmas and when it was finally the kids' turn I fainted because I was so cold.
'We were told we would be having snowball fights with elves, but the elves were moody and wouldn't even talk to us.
'There wasn't even a Christmas tree and I didn't see any fairy lights – it was pitch black.'
The family got an early morning Thomas Cook flight out of London Gatwick on Saturday and were due to fly back at 7.50pm the same day.
Michelle said: “We boarded the plane at 7pm, but it never took off. We were sat on the tarmac until 11pm wondering what was happening.
'They refused to give us any food and drink while we were waiting – it was just awful. I've never heard so many children crying all at once.
'Apparently the valve that stops the engine from freezing was faulty and they just kept telling us they were trying to fix it.
Originally meant to be a day trip, the Lapland visit has turned into a disaster for many families
'Eventually they took us off the plane at 11pm and put us up in a hotel.
'They've told us we will get an update on what is happening at 4pm today so all we can do is wait.
'We can't leave the hotel because it's too cold outside and they've taken away our snow suits.”
A spokeswoman for Canterbury Travel said this afternoon they hoped to be able to send the passengers home on a 4.30pm flight.
She said: 'We have had two staff with our clients at the hotel all day keeping them updated.
'Fingers crossed all the passengers should be heading home on a 4.30pm flight.'
She added she was “stunned” to hear about the Courtney family's disappointing Lapland experience.
She said: 'I am really disappointed to hear this. Not one single complaint has come to our ears.
'Historically we have had really good feedback from our Lapland tours.'
A Thomas Cook spokeswoman said a plane was due to depart from Kittila either late afternoon or early evening to return the 235 passengers to London Gatwick.
She said: 'We are doing everything we can to make their plane ready for departure as soon as possible.
'We've provided overnight accommodation, meals and drinks to ensure passengers are comfortable and we expect to have them back in England by the end of the day, in plenty of time to enjoy Christmas at home.
'We're also planning to have a little thank you present for the children on arrival in Gatwick to say thank you for their patience.'