Dozens of flights at Gatwick face being cancelled after mass delays following air traffic control staff shortages

25 September 2023, 19:20 | Updated: 25 September 2023, 21:48

Thousands of people are stranded at Gatwick
Thousands of people are stranded at Gatwick. Picture: Social media/@BeingHemilistic

By Will Taylor

Gatwick will restrict flights for the rest of the week, forcing dozens of cancellations, after a Covid outbreak among its air traffic controllers.

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Thousands of passengers have faced delays due to the shortages, with 50 flights either arriving or leaving the airport having been cancelled on Sunday and a further 80 being scrapped on Monday.

National Air Traffic Services (Nats) said the disruption was due to "short-notice staff sickness including some incidences of Covid".

Gatwick will limit itself to 800 flights a day, meaning 65 will be cut on Friday, 40 on Thursday and 30 on both Wednesday and Sunday.

The airport will announce which get cut but believes it can put passengers who see their service scrapped on new flights.

"We are working closely with Nats to build resilience in the control tower, and this decision means we can prevent as much disruption as possible," said Stewart Wingate, Gatwick's CEO.

"London Gatwick would like to sincerely apologise to any passengers who have been impacted by these restrictions.”"

Dozens of easyJet flights were among those affected after a drop in the "flow rate" of planes.

The airline said it was "extremely disappointed" by the issues, which saw eight flights cancelled to and from Belfast as well others to or from Edinburgh, Geneva and Paris.

Vueling was forced to cancel six flights to and from Barcelona, Bilbao and Paris.

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Daniel Wilkes, a consultant psychiatrist from Angus, told the Independent: "I just can’t believe the lack of contingency planning from Nats for staff sickness and that this is happening again.

"Plus, airports and airlines have had quite a while to firm up their processes for cancellations, and yet always the poorly managed scrum ensues.

"Bizarrely, we were made to exit through border control. I didn’t even have my passport as it was a domestic flight."

Others complained online over the disruption, with one person posting on X: "@NATS can’t believe we have had another @easyJet flight from Murcia to Gatwick cancelled. The 2nd one in 3 months. Clearly more staff are required in air traffic. You need to sort this out urgently. You are causing chaos. Lucky we have [our] own [accommodation] for another night!"

A second person said: @Gatwick_Airport When are you you going to sort out the ATC issues at LGW, this has been going on for over a year now…..I find myself delayed again due to the ATC short staff issues….why?? I work in travel and all the alerts we receive are related to delays in arrivals at LGW??"

A third person posted: "My d & her boyfriend had Easyjet flights booked from Edinburgh to Gatwick today, cancelled. Alternative flight offered was scheduled in less than one hour from the notice they were given. So they’ve hired a car to drive it. Nearly 8 hours, & then on in their own car. Not good."

It is the third time in a month that Gatwick passengers have faced chaos due to staff sickness, following incidents on September 14 and September 6.

There was also a major technical glitch on August 28, which caused widespread disruption across airports in the UK, leaving holidaymakers stranded.

Nats said: "With 30% of tower staff unavailable for a variety of medical reasons including Covid, we cannot manage the number of flights that were originally planned for this week.

"Our operational resilience in the tower will improve as our staff return to work and we move out of the summer schedule, which is particularly busy at Gatwick."

It continued: "We continue to train additional air traffic controllers and expect another group to qualify to work in the tower over coming months, ready for next summer."

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