UK air traffic control 'don't seem to be on top of the situation'

UK air traffic control ‘don’t seem like they’re fully on top of the situation’, say experts – amid warnings that travel chaos will last for days with thousands of passengers stranded by catastrophic IT failure

  • UK air traffic control LIVE: Follow for latest updates after airspace failure 
  • Are you affected by the UK air traffic control shutdown? Email your story, with photos, to [email protected] 

UK air traffic control ‘don’t seem like they’re fully on top of the situation’, an expert told MailOnline today – amid warnings travel chaos could last for days with thousands of passengers stranded following a catastrophic system meltdown. 

Almost 1,000 flights were grounded and cancelled with thousands more delayed after Britain’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) experienced ‘technical issues’ yesterday.  

Today, around 200,000 remain stranded in a location they do not wish to be, while 200 flights out of the UK have been cancelled due to crew and aircraft being out of position. This includes 80 operated by easyJet and 60 by British Airways.  

Sally Gethin, former editor of Air Traffic Management magazine, questioned the way NATS had communicated with the public during the crisis. 

She told MailOnline: ‘NATs are used to talking about their technological advances but aren’t used to such immediate scrutiny. 

‘They put out a video saying they had remedied the problem but it doesn’t seem to me that they’ve understood what the core issue is. 

‘They’re trying to reassure the public but the way they’re communicating doesn’t give me the impression that they are fully on top of the situation.’ 

Sources previously told The Times that the fault may have been caused by an incorrectly filed plan by a French airline. MailOnline has contacted NATS for comment.

*Are you affected by the UK air traffic control shutdown? Email your story, with photos, to [email protected]

Passengers queue up at 4.20am this morning at Manchester Airport’s Terminal Two

Passengers are pictured at London Heathrow Airport Terminal Five this morning 

Scenes at Manchester Airport early this morning as queues build up at Terminal One

Passengers stranded overnight at London Gatwick Airport are pictured this morning

Passengers queue for check-in in the car park at Manchester Airport’s Terminal One 

A flight departures board at Manchester Airport shows cancelled departures this morning

Passengers have been warned that they could face ‘days of disruption’, which could last until Friday. An easyJet pilot told passengers he had never seen a failure on this scale in 20 years of flying.

It’s understood officials are aware of what caused the outage but not how it disabled the system. A cyber attack was also ruled out by NATS. 

The mayhem happened on one of the busiest days of the year, when more than a million people were due to fly out of or land in the UK. Experts have warned that disruption is set to continue into the week despite the seven-hour ‘network failure’ being ‘remedied’. 

READ MORE – Tens of thousands of Brits could be refused compensation after air misery as airlines could argue delays were ‘out of their control’ 

Britain’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) said it experienced ‘technical issues’ that forced controllers to switch from an automatic system for landing and dispatching flights to a manual one. 

‘Flight plans are being input manually which means we cannot process them at the same volume, hence we have applied traffic flow restrictions,’ NATS said. A spokesman told MailOnline there was ‘nothing to suggest a cyber attack’. 

NATS said at 3.15pm it had ‘identified and remedied’ the technical issue affecting air traffic control systems and is working with airlines and airports to support the flights affected. 

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that despite the technical issue being resolved ‘flights are still unfortunately affected’.

He tweeted that he would ‘encourage all passengers to read the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s guidance & be aware of their rights when flights are delayed or cancelled’.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman told passengers to contact airlines if they needed more information. 

Former pilot Alastair Rosenschein told BBC Radio 5 Live that what was happening in UK air space is equivalent to what it would be like on the ground ‘if every road was closed’. 

At 1.45pm, the majority (78%) of flights leaving Heathrow were delayed, according to Flight Radar data, compared to 74% at Gatwick, 81% at Manchester and 86% at Bristol. 

Heathrow has urged passengers only to travel to the airport if flights are ‘confirmed to be operating’, adding: ‘Schedules still remain significantly disrupted.’ Delays at 11pm tonight were down to 59 per cent at Europe’s busiest airport.

Passengers stranded overnight at London Gatwick Airport are pictured this morning 

Passengers stranded overnight at London Gatwick Airport are pictured this morning

Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal Two this morning

Passengers queue for check-in in the underground car park at Manchester Airport’s Terminal One today 

Passengers queue up at 3.48am this morning at Manchester Airport’s Terminal One 

Paul Charles, the chief executive of the PC Agency, a travel consultancy, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘This six-hour outage will impact flights for five days. The reason for that is that you have so many planes and crews that are out of position’.

He added that this combined with the higher volume of people travelling at the moment, with numbers ‘approaching pre-pandemic levels’, will result in a five-day disruption.

READ MORE – MARK PALMER: The UK’s flight chaos is yet another travel foul-up… and with the worst possible timing 

A senior airline executive told the newspaper that disruption will be seen for ‘at least a couple of days’ but the knock-on effect could be longer for some airlines.

They said that another weekend may have been more manageable, but the timing was ‘terrible’. They added that passengers are going to ‘have to grin and bear it’. 

Under UK law, those affected have legal rights which oblige the airlines to provide support to customers flying from a UK airport, arriving in the country on an EU or UK airline, or arriving at an EU airport on a UK airline.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website says that in the case of a ‘significant delay’, the airline must provide a reasonable amount of food and drink, commonly in the form of vouchers, refunds for the cost of calls, and accommodation for passengers stuck overnight and transport to a hotel or their home.

The CAA accepts airlines are sometimes unable to organise such support, so passengers should make their own ‘reasonable’ arrangements and keep receipts to claim money back, but the authority adds that ‘luxury hotels and alcohol’ are unlikely to be paid for.

The authority adds that once a passenger accepts a refund or to travel later than the first available flight, then the airline is not obliged to provide food, drink or accommodation. 

A passenger sleeping on the floor at Manchester Airport early this morning 

The chaos happened on one of the busiest travel days of the year (this man is seen at Manchester Airport this morning) 

Nicky Kelvin, Editor at Large at The Points Guy, urged travellers to check the Flight Radar 24 website to track the exact aircraft that will be flying your route. 

‘You’re then able to see where this plane is and whether it has made it out of its previous destination.

READ MORE – Alton Towers crash amputee Leah Washington caught up in air traffic control nightmare as hen party is left stranded in Portugal 

‘Knowing this information will help you to determine whether you will be encountering any delays ahead of your trip,’ he said. 

‘If you’re delayed for more than two hours on a short-haul flight, airlines must provide you with support such as food and drink and reimbursement for phone calls. If you’re delayed overnight, they will provide you accommodation and transport to a hotel (or home).’  

Britons returning from Tenerife told MailOnline they had been told to expect a wait of at least 12 hours.

Michele Robson, who used to work in air traffic control, said that it was ‘unusual’ for failures to last this long. As a result, ‘nobody really knows at this point how long it’s going to take,’ she told BBC Radio 4. 

Ms Robson told the World at One programme: ‘There was a flight planning system failure this morning which affected both centres in the UK.’

Speaking from Jersey Airport while waiting to fly to London, she said: ‘Now they have enough data for four hours for controllers to work normally. 

‘After that point, they have to go manual which means that they work at a much slower rate so they can handle far less aircraft.

Passengers check the flight screens at Heathrow Airport this morning  

Hundreds of flights were cancelled at London’s busiest airport (which is seen today) 

A man lying on the floor this morning in Terminal One at Manchester Airport 

‘So it looks like there’s been what they would call a zero rate put on, where it means that no aircraft can take off inbound to the UK or probably outbound. It would generally be them trying to land things that were already in the air.

‘So at the moment, we’re just sitting here with no definite takeoff time.’

Contagion from the issue has already spread across Europe, causing delays for some flights leaving the Continent for the USA. 

TV presenter Gabby Logan said she has been left stranded on the runway at Budapest Airport while returning from the World Athletics Championships. She wrote: ‘After almost 3 weeks away from home I am hours from hugging my family. And have just been told UK airspace is shut. We could be here for 12 hours. So we sit on the plane and wait.’ 

The Liberal Democrats called on the Prime Minister to convene a Cobra meeting over the issue 

Transport spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: ‘Rishi Sunak and his ministers need to get a grip on this issue urgently and hold a Cobra meeting.

‘Millions of holidaymakers could be facing huge disruption in the coming days due to this fault and we can’t risk this Government being missing in action yet again.

‘Brits need to know that the Government is doing all it can to make sure people aren’t hit with major delays and disruptions in the coming days.’

READ MORE – Terrifying footage from plane flying through Mallorca storm shows passengers screaming and crying as extreme turbulence causes some to vomit 

Travel expert Simon Calder warned the situation would be ‘miserable’. 

‘There is very little slack in the system and there are hundreds of planes up in the sky heading to the UK,’ he told Sky News. 

‘What’s going to happen to those aircraft, will some of them get down if they are in the vicinity of the airfield. 

‘Otherwise you will see planes held on the ground in places like Amsterdam or otherwise being diverted if they’re on a longer flight. That would typically be to a continental airport or an Irish airport.’ 

Mr Calder said the shutdown would not cause safety issues because the system was ‘designed to cope’ with a shutdown and aircraft carried contingency fuel. 

But he added: ‘This is of course one of the busiest days of the year. There are hundreds of thousands of people flying into the UK, frankly this is the last thing anyone needs. 

‘It will at the very least have caused enough disruption for the system to be in disarray for certainly until the end of the day and possibly for a few further days ahead.’

The travel guru said air traffic controllers at Heathrow – the UK’s busiest airport – be forced to reduce the frequency at which flights are able to land.  

UK airspace system failure: What are your rights and can you claim compensation back? 

By Jessica Hamilton

UK airspace has been hit by a network-wide failure for air traffic control systems on one of the busiest travel days of the year. 

The system failure is expected to cause disruption for the rest of the day, as the UK will see flights delayed and cancelled, with the mayhem spreading around Europe.  

As the chaos continues, many will be wondering if they can claim compensation. But what are your rights? Read on to find out.

Can I claim compensation? 

If you’re flight is delayed, your airline should offer you support and, according to Citizens Advice, you may be able to claim compensation if your flight was:

  • Leaving from the UK (regardless of the airline) 
  • Leaving from the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland (regardless of the airline)
  • Arriving in the UK and was with a UK or EU airline 
  • Arriving in the EU and was with a UK airline 

If you’re on a non-UK flight which connects to a UK flight, you can usually receive compensation if you booked both flights as a single booking, if the delay was the airline’s fault and if you’re delayed for more than 12 hours.  

If your flight is delayed, your airline has to offer food and drink, access to phone calls and emails and accommodation if you’re delayed overnight, as well as journeys between the airport and hotel. 

However, you’re unlikely to get compensation if the delay was because of something outside the airline’s control.

According to EU Regulation EC 261/2004, disruptions caused by things like extreme weather, airport or air traffic control employee strikes or other ‘extraordinary circumstances’ are not eligible for compensation.

How much could I be entitled to? 

In cases where the airline is at fault for a delay, passengers could receive the following compensation. 

  • 3 hours or more, less than 1,500km: £220
  • 3 hours or more, between 1,500 and 3,500km: £350
  • 4 hours or more, more than 3500km: £520
  • Less than 4 hours, more than 3,500km £260 

If your flight is delayed for 5 hours or more you can claim £520 in compensation if the delay is the airline’s fault and you take flight. 

If you don’t take the flight and the airline is at fault, they should give you a full refund for the flight and any other flights from the same airline that you won’t use. 

If you are part-way through your journey, they should fund a flight back to the airport you originally departed from. 

Alternatively, if your flight is cancelled you may be entitled to a full refund or a replacement flight. 

How can I claim? 

To claim compensation, you will have to go through the relevant airline directly. 

Most airlines will have a customer services department which will deal with urgent matters, such as flight delays. 

In cases where the delay is not the airline’s fault, the Civil Aviation Authority says ‘don’t expect to receive any compensation.’

However, you may be able to make a claim on your travel insurance, as some insurance policies may offer limited cover for delays, according to the Money Saving Expert website. 

But be sure to gather evidence of the costs you’ve incurred, such as hotels or alternative transport.  

If you need further help, you can contact the Civil Aviation Authority and Citizens Advice for assistance.  



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