The Virgin Atlantic Airbus was on its way to New York's JFK Airport from London Heathrow when it had to turn back mid-route, thanks to an issue with the pairing of the two pilots – one of whom was still in training.
The plane was approximately 40 minutes into its journey when the discovery was made, adding a delay of almost three hours to the scheduled arrival time.
Virgin Atlantic has since apologised for the issue, saying it was down to a rota mistake.
While both pilots were fully licensed and qualified to operate the aircraft, it was established that the 'experienced' captain did not hold designated trainer status.
The pairing of pilots wasn’t in breach of any regulations, but as it didn’t comply with Virgin Atlantic’s internal training protocols it was decided that the plane should turn back for a crew change, replacing the 'qualified first officer' with a new pilot.
The flight later arriving in New York two hours and 40 minutes later than the scheduled time.
In a statement to LADbible, Virgin Atlantic said: "Due to a rostering error, flight VS3 from London Heathrow to New York-JFK returned to Heathrow on Monday 2nd May shortly after take-off.
“The qualified first officer, who was flying alongside an experienced captain, was replaced with a new pilot to ensure full compliance with Virgin Atlantic’s training protocols, which exceed industry standards.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our customers who arrived two hours, 40 minutes later than scheduled as a result of the crew change.”
A source told The Sun that passengers on board were ‘furious’ as they reached Ireland only to find they’d be turning around.
They said: “You could have cut the tension in the cockpit with a knife.
“The plane got as far as Ireland and then they found out the first officer was still in training.
“The skipper had no choice but to go back to Heathrow and find a more experienced member of the crew.
“It was embarrassing for everyone and the passengers were furious.”
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said: "Virgin Atlantic have made us aware of the incident.
"Both pilots were suitably licensed and qualified to undertake the flight."