Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

Flights returning stranded passengers begin as airport chaos enters third day

The first easyJet repatriation flights bringing people affected by Monday’s air traffic control failure back to Gatwick are due to take off today.

Passengers who have been stranded in Palma, Majorca, and Faro in Portugal will be the first to get a flight home today.

Further trips will take people back from Enfidha in Tunisia and Tenerife tomorrow, and from the Greek island of Rhodes the following day.

It is just the latest attempt to mop up some of the mess caused by the worst failure of UK air traffic control in at least a decade, which led to hundreds of journeys being delayed or cancelled at the start of the week.

National Air Traffic Services (Nats) received flight data that caused both its primary and its backup systems to suspend automatic processing on Monday morning.

The issue meant all flight plans had to be processed manually, resulting in significant disruption for all flights heading in or out of the UK.

While the problem was solved on Monday afternoon, the chaos extended into Tuesday, with at least 281 flights across the UK’s six busiest airports being cancelled the day after the systems failure according to analysis of flight data websites.

This consisted of 75 at Gatwick, 74 at Heathrow, 63 at Manchester, 28 at Stansted, 23 at Luton and 18 at Edinburgh.

In a statement, easyJet said: ‘During this traditionally very busy week for travel, options for returning to the UK are more limited on some routes and so easyJet will be operating five repatriation flights to London Gatwick over the coming days from Palma and Faro on August 30, and Tenerife and Enfidha on August 31 and from Rhodes on September 1.

‘We are also operating larger aircraft on key routes including Faro, Ibiza, Dalaman and Tenerife to provide some additional 700 seats this week.’

Aviation analytics company Cirium said 790 departures and 785 arrivals were cancelled across all UK airports on Monday.

Explaining the failure, Nats chief executive Martin Rolfe said yesterday: ‘At no point was UK airspace closed but the number of flights was significantly reduced.

‘Initial investigations into the problem show it relates to some of the flight data we received.

‘Our systems, both primary and the back-ups, responded by suspending automatic processing to ensure that no incorrect safety-related information could be presented to an air traffic controller or impact the rest of the air traffic system.

‘There are no indications that this was a cyber-attack.’

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