Chaos caused by the volcanic ash cloud saw holidaymakers spend six hours on a flight – before returning to the airport where they took off.
The 160 passengers boarded the Thompson flight from Exeter airport in Devon to the Portuguese island of Madeira at 7am on Monday.
They were expecting a three hour journey but were immediately told that to dodge the Icelandic ash they would have to fly to Gran Canaria.
But as they flew between Southern Spain and North Africa the threat of the ash cloud grew and Flight TOM 6100 did a U turn.
It landed at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain where it was due to head to Madeira but instead it refuelled – and returned to Exeter.
Passengers endured a six hour journey over hundreds of miles and ended up back where they started – many without any food for the entire trip.
Brian Overington, 73, and his wife Freda, 74, from Kingskerswell (corr), Devon, had planned a two-week trip to Madeira.
He said: ”We had a delay to start with of about 30 to 45 minutes. When we got in the plane we were then told we would be flying to Las Palmas and once there could go on to Madeira in a few days.
”We would be looked after there, put in hotels, fed and watered. But on the way down, we got between Southern Spain and North Africa when the captain said he had just been told from headquarters at Luton that there was a change of plan and we were going back to Santiago de Compostela (corr).
”We stopped there for two hours and were told the ash cloud was moving up, out of the way, and we were due to head on to Madeira.
”Then we got another message from the captain saying we were flying home, back to Exeter. The plane refuelled and then came back.
”I went on the internet beforehand to check that Exeter airport was running, but didn’t think about our destination. We were really shocked.”
Sheila Smith, 53, from Somerset, was travelling with her friend Teresa Simmonds and said the plane should not have taken off knowing it could not get to Madeira.
She said: ”We had no food – only people who booked food got it.”
Shortly before take off in Exeter passengers were told by Captain Paul Reid that they could not go to Madeira because of the ash cloud.
Four people immediately got off the flight but were informed that they would not be compensated.
Fellow-passengers Christopher and Susan Manser, both 65 and from Teignmouth, Devon, said they were ”disappointed” with the service.
Chris said: ”It’s been a bit of a mess, really. We don’t think we should have taken off in the first place. We had no set destination.
They hoped to get somewhere and just took off.
”Seven hours later and we’re back where we started. We were given the option to get off but then we would get no compensation. We were going for a week at a cost of about #700.”
Edward Dench, 75, and his partner Jackie Hardwell, 63, from Dorset, left their home in the early hours of the morning.
He said: ”The passengers have been treated a bit shabbily. We’ve been flying all day and our destination has been changing through the day.
”We’ve had no answers to our questions. Do we get a refund, or compensation or both. We’re feeling shattered.”
Stephen Ayres, a spokesman for Exeter International Airport, said: ”It’s most unfortunate that our passengers have had a disruptive morning and did not get to their destination.
”Most who returned to Exeter this afternoon were in good humour and accepting that the situation was out of the hands of the airport and airline.
”They were very appreciative of the way they were kept informed by the captain and the aircrew.”
Some passengers who lived locally said they were going home and would await contact from the airport.
Around 80 rooms were made available at a hotel to passengers who had travelled from further afield.