Lightning tore a gash in the nosecone of a passenger jet, which was forced to abandon its flight from New York to London.
The airline said planes were occasionally struck by lightning
The incident happened on Saturday night after the Continental Airlines Boeing 757 took off from Newark Liberty International Airport near New York.
One passenger said people started screaming after a loud bang was followed by a flash of white light.
The Gatwick-bound plane returned to Newark where it landed safely.
The 122 passengers switched to another aircraft and reached Gatwick almost three hours late.
A Continental Airlines spokesman said: "After the lightning strike the pilot immediately returned to Newark. There was damage to the nosecone.
"This was the kind of lightning strike that does happen occasionally but it must have been alarming for the customers on board."
The incident comes just weeks after the crash-landing at Heathrow Airport after a British Airways' Boeing 777 lost power on approach to the airport. All 152 passengers and crew were evacuated safely.