This is my true hair-raising experience!
In September 2008 we boarded our flight bound for USA with Virgin Atlantic. We were leaving Gatwick at 0700 and were due to arrive the USA 9 hours later.
We took our seats, belted up and waited
The plane taxied to the runway as it does, the engines fired up and off we blasted down the runway at 180mph.
Off we were on our way looking forward to 2 weeks in Florida.
Half hour passed and we were barely above the clouds… this was strange as usually after half hour the seat belt signs are off.
Were not very high I said. As soon as those words came out of my mouth the plane did a full U-turn and the dreaded words rang in my ears…
This is your captain speaking… words you don’t really ever like to hear.
We are going to have to return to Gatwick as there is a problem with the plane. Although it isn’t majorly serious we don’t want to get over the Atlantic and have it turn into a big problem.
These are words NO ONE wants to hear when you’re however many thousands of feet up in the air.
The captain proceeded to say… As we have only just taken off it is really dangerous to land with a full tank of fuel. We are going to have to fly over the English Channel and dump the fuel from the plane before landing.
This actually gave me some comfort because I thought if it was really serious we would land straight away.
We were sitting just behind the wing and could see the fuel spewing out of the tips of the wings and it really scared the hell out of me.
After an hour and half of the fuel dumping the captain came back over the radio and advised we would be landing back in Gatwick. He said because it was classed as an emergency landing the fire engines and ambulances would be lined up down the run way. The fire engines would chase down the runway as soon as the plane landed and we would then sit on the runway until the plane was checked all around.
After the plane was checked all round, we went to the stand. The captain advised that whilst we were still in the air Virgin flew another plane from Heathrow for us to get on. We would have a 2 hour wait though as the crew would have to swap over as they would have been out of their working time limit.
We got off the plane, given food vouchers, got some food, back on the new plane and off we went.
I have to say off we went with a plane full of people who were most likely really unsettled for the 9 hour flight.
It was a really scary experience at the time and not knowing what was wrong. We later found out that one of the flaps had got stuck on the wing. this can cause flying and lading problem for the plane. Really glad I found out after we had landed.