Flight disruption that hit thousands of passengers on bank holiday Monday (August 28) looks set to persist for days as airports and airlines try to get schedules back on track.
There were long delays and cancellations after National Air Traffic Services (Nats) restricted the number of planes landing because of a “technical fault” with its flight planning system.
Reports said more than 500 flights were cancelled by early afternoon and hundreds more delayed, leaving travellers stranded overseas – some with no services back to the UK for up to a week.
Nats confirmed the problem just after midday on Monday then announced at 3.15pm that the issue had been “identified and remedied”.
“The flight planning issue affected the system’s ability to automatically process flight plans, meaning that flight plans had to be processed manually which cannot be done at the same volume, hence the requirement for traffic flow restrictions,” it said.
On Monday evening, Juliet Kennedy, Nats operations director, issued a video statement in which she apologised for the disruption.
A message from our Operations Director about today’s disruption. pic.twitter.com/C4LWX7VyM8
— NATS (@NATS) August 28, 2023
She added: “It will take some time for flights to return to normal, and we will continue to work with the airlines and the airports to recover the situation.
“Our absolute priority is safety, and we will be investigating very thoroughly what happened today.”
Aviation analytics firm Cirium said 790 flights departing from UK airports yesterday were cancelled – equivalent to about 27% of all departures. Meanwhile, 785 flights due to fly into the UK airports were cancelled, again representing about 27% of all arrivals. Heathrow saw the highest number of cancellations, followed by Gatwick and Manchester.
A statement from Heathrow warned that schedules remained “significantly disrupted” and asked that people “to only travel to the airport if their flight is confirmed as still operating”.
Gatwick said it was planning to operate a normal schedule on Tuesday, but urged passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before going to the airport.
Stansted also anticipates a normal schedule on Tuesday but said its terminal may be “busier than anticipated” because of the disruption.
Luton airport also said on Monday evening that flights across UK airspace remained subject to delays and cancellation, and people should check with airlines for the status of their flight.
Airlines hit by the chaos include British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Jet2, easyJet, Ryanair and Tui.
BA said the disruption has created “significant and unavoidable delays and cancellations” and said customers due to travel on Monday or Tuesday can move their flights free of charge to a later date, subject to availability.
“We are also rebooking customers onto alternative airlines where possible and have stood up additional colleagues in our call centres to assist our customers,” said BA.
On Monday evening, Jet2 said all its flights are expected to experience “significant delays” and it was reviewing its programme for Tuesday, with customers advised to travel to the airport as normal, unless advised otherwise.
Transport secretary Mark Harper said he and aviation minister Baroness Vere were working with Nats “to help them manage affected flights and support passengers”.
He advised passengers to contact their airline for specific flight information and encourage them to read the UK Civil Aviation Authority guidance to be aware of their rights when flights are delayed or cancelled.
Rob Bishton, interim chief executive at the CAA, said: “We understand the challenges many consumers continue to experience when flights are delayed or cancelled following yesterday’s technical issue that impacted National Air Traffic Services (Nats) flight planning system.
“Passengers who continue to be impacted can find information about what they are entitled to on our website. In the event of delays or cancellations, passengers will be expected to be provided with food and drink as well as accommodation if delayed overnight.
“As part of our regulatory oversight of its activities, we continue to engage with Nats and once its investigation is fully complete, an incident report will be provided to the UK Civil Aviation Authority. The report’s outcomes will then be shared with the secretary of state for transport.”
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