Brit stranded in Portugal for at least a week amid air traffic control chaos faces having to take unpaid leave

29 August 2023, 06:44 | Updated: 30 August 2023, 06:37

On Monday flights to the UK and Ireland were cancelled as a result of air traffic control issues in the UK
On Monday flights to the UK and Ireland were cancelled as a result of air traffic control issues in the UK. Picture: Alamy

At a glance:

  • There was a major technical failure in the UK's air traffic control system on one of the busiest travel days of the year, causing widespread flight delays and cancellations.
  • The issue was with the flight planning system used by air traffic controllers, forcing them to manually input flight plans which greatly reduced capacity.
  • Over 500 flights were cancelled and hundreds more delayed, with disruption expected to continue for days as planes and crews are out of position.
  • The outage occurred on a day when around 1 million passengers were expected to pass through UK airports, leaving many stranded or unable to travel.
  • Airline executives and experts warn it could take 2-5 days for flight operations to fully return to normal due to aircraft and crews being out of position.
  • Passengers are advised to contact airlines for the latest on their flights, as significant delays and disruptions are likely to persist.
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A care worker has told LBC he might have to take unpaid leave while his teacher wife will be late back to school after an Air Traffic Control glitch means he will be stranded in Portugal for a week.

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Travel disruption could last for days after flights were cancelled leaving thousands of passengers stranded following an air traffic control technical fault.

Holidaymakers were hit by bank holiday travel delays, which started on Monday after a UK air traffic control failure meant flight plans had to be input manually by controllers.

By Monday afternoon, 232 flights departing UK airports had been cancelled and 271 arriving flights, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium.

This equates to about 8% of all expected departures and 9% of expected arrivals, Cirium added.

Read more: Air traffic control chaos: How to get compensation for delayed flights, and whether airlines owe you a refund

Read more: Air traffic control chaos cancels 250,000 passengers' flights but disruption set to ease on Wednesday

On Monday all flights to and from the UK were reported to be affected and delays could last for days.
On Monday all flights to and from the UK were reported to be affected and delays could last for days. Picture: Getty

Neil Scott from Newcastle told LBC he could be stuck in Faro, Portugal, for a week after the air traffic control glitch.

He was set to fly to Glasgow on Monday evening and then head home but now Easyjet have offered them an alternative flight on the 5th of September.

Neil says he’ll have to take unpaid leave from his social care job if they have to stay until then, and his wife will be late back to her job at a school.

The pair are on holiday with their two teenage sons who also face missing school.

Travellers at Belfast Airport face cancellations and disruption after air traffic control issues

He told LBC he had to leave his hotel room to attend the airport even though he knew his flights were cancelled.

Neil said when he arrived at the airport there were large queues but once he was able to speak to a staff member "there was no information whatsoever there was no possibility of getting any questions answered about where we stay, do we get alternative flights, do we get meals paid for, compensation, anything?"

He said he was given a sheet of paper with a number to contact EasyJet, but despite repeated attempts he has been unable to get through to anybody.

Read more: Exact date 10-day heatwave to hit UK after washout Bank Holiday weekend

He revealed that because he was offered a replacement flight on September 5th by his airline, he cannot book alternative flights and then claim a refund.

Neil said he was left with the possibility of taking unpaid leave as he cannot get home for at least a week.

Nats chief says ‘it will take a long time’ for flights to return to normal _Original Video_m238222

National Air Traffic Services (Nats), the country's leading provider of air traffic control, said at 3.15pm that it had "identified and remedied" the technical issue affecting its systems and it was working with airlines and airports to support affected flights.

On Monday Juliet Kennedy, operations director at Nats, said the issue meant the automatic system that provides controllers with details of every aircraft and its route had stopped working, and what happened will be investigated "very thoroughly".

She also apologised for the impact on people's travel plans.

Ms Kennedy added: "The issue we had earlier meant that our automatic system, which provides controllers with details of every aircraft and its route, wasn't working. Instead, to manage safety, we had to limit the number of flights we could manage.

"Our teams worked hard to resolve the problem, and I'm pleased to say it was fixed earlier on this afternoon. However, 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.

"Again, I would like to apologise for the impact on the travelling public and to tell you that our teams will continue to work to get you on your way as soon as we can."

There is nothing to suggest the technical issue was the result of a cyber attack, the PA news agency understands.

Passengers stuck in the UK and abroad described their frustration, as some had no idea when or how they would get to their destination.

Rory Dollard, 40, cricket correspondent for PA Media, was stuck at Bergerac Dordogne Perigord airport in France and was told it may take up to six days before he and his family - his wife Joanne, 40, and children Emily, 10, and Arthur, eight - could return home to Skipton, North Yorkshire.

Lyudmila Hristova, 57, said her and her husband's plans to attend her niece's wedding in Bulgaria were "ruined" after BA cancelled their 2pm flight from Heathrow to Sofia.

And a German couple were considering returning home by train after their flight from London to Stuttgart was cancelled.

Myria Mebold, 36, also said that British Airways "didn't know anything at all" when she and her husband asked about the situation and their flight.

Major UK airlines such as Tui and BA warned of "significant delays" for passengers amid changes to schedules.

Passengers were urged by airlines to check before they leave for the airport as their flight times may have changed.

Heathrow Airport tweeted on Monday night: "We apologise for any inconvenience as a result of the Nats technical issues today.

"The issue has been resolved however schedules remain significantly disrupted. If you are travelling on 29th August, please ensure you contact your airline before travelling to the airport."

Gatwick said it plans to operate a normal schedule on Tuesday, but advised passengers to "check the status of their flight with the airline before travelling to the airport".

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