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.
A message from our Operations Director about today’s disruption. pic.twitter.com/C4LWX7VyM8
— NATS (@NATS) August 28, 2023
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.
The technical issue which limited UK air traffic today has been fixed by NATS. Schedules still remain significantly disrupted. Please only travel to the airport if your flight is confirmed to be operating. We are working hard to minimise the impacts and assist those affected.
— Heathrow Airport (@HeathrowAirport) August 28, 2023
“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”.
Rail operator TransPennine Express (TPE) said it is allowing customers affected by the air traffic control issues to travel for free on Tuesday.
Affected customers who are arriving back in the UK on an alternative date, time or at a different airport, will also be able to travel on TPE Standard Class at no charge.
Darren Higgins, commercial director for TPE, said: “We recognise how difficult this experience has been for many people and hope this decision will provide much-needed relief to those who have been impacted by the technical problems.”