TUI Group’s UK airline has launched an investigation into an incident in which three passengers with paid tickets, seat assignments and boarding passes had to sit on the aircraft floor because their seats did not exist.

The BBC and other UK media have reported that the family of parents and their young daughter who were flying from Mahon in Menorca to Birmingham in the UK, boarded the aircraft and found that their three seats in row 41 did not exist.

When they pointed this out to flight crew, they were offered the only free seat for the child and two flip-up seats in the crew area for the adults.

But after takeoff, the crew area was needed for service trolleys, so the parents were asked to give up their flip-up seats and move to the floor space where their seat should have been. Their daughter joined them on the floor for the entire flight, with everyone returning to the temporary seats for landing.

The incident happened several months ago, but did not get media exposure until this week when it became the subject of a British TV program. Photographs taken during the flight and showing the passengers sitting on the floor have been widely distributed.

A TUI UK spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, a last-minute aircraft change meant that the seats the family was originally assigned were unavailable, as the alternative aircraft had a different seating configuration. Were also sorry for the way the situation was initially handled and we’ll be investigating this. We will also be contacting the customers directly to apologize and will be offering a full refund.”

The incident has been brought to the attention of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which does not permit passengers to not have seats on any commercial flight.

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@informa.com