A piece of fuselage came off a plane 6,000 feet over Surrey, damaging two cabin windows, British Airways has said.
The plane was 15 minutes into a flight from Gatwick
The incident happened on Thursday when a three feet by four feet metal panel came loose, cracking one window and scratching another.
The plane was about 15 minutes into a flight from Gatwick Airport to Antigua and returned to the Sussex airport immediately.
British Airways has stressed passengers were not in danger at any time.
The Boeing 777 suffered "superficial damage" to two three-layer windows near the back of the aircraft as it passed over the Dorking area of Surrey.
Neither the passengers nor the aircraft were in danger at any time
British Airways spokeswoman
British Airways said the plane flew back to Gatwick as a precaution and the 264 passengers on board had to be put up in hotels overnight as there was no replacement plane available.
They are due to be flown to Antigua on Friday.
A British Airways spokeswoman said: "The captain landed safely and normally and the aircraft is being inspected.
"We have to inform the Air Accident Investigation Bureau.
"Neither the passengers nor the aircraft were in danger at any time.
"There was superficial damage to one of the three layers of the cabin window.
"Because the aircraft had only reached 6,000 feet there was no pressurisation which means it could not have caused any further damage to the window."