In a deja-vu moment, 8,000 travellers hoping to get away via Gatwick Airport were told that their flight had been delayed or cancelled. This is the third time in September that Gatwick has faced cancellations.
The problem stems from an air traffic control slowdown. The reason: some air traffic controllers have contracted Covid, NATS said.
Air traffic control staff have fallen ill leading to the“flow rate” of flights using the world’s busiest runway was reduced. Gatwick Airport says around 30% of air traffic controllers are off sick, leading to more than 160 flights cancelled.
Fifty flights to and from the Sussex airport were cancelled or diverted, while many other services were delayed by up to seven hours.
Easyjet has been most affected having to cancel 42 flights. Eight flights were grounded between Gatwick and Belfast – six to and from the Northern Ireland capital’s International airport, and two serving Belfast City. Multiple cancellations were also made on easyJet links with Edinburgh, Geneva and Paris CDG.
The number of daily flights will be pegged at 800.
Stewart Wingate, London Gatwick CEO said:
“This has been a difficult decision but the action we have taken today means our airlines can fly reliable flight schedules.
We are working closely with NATS to build resilience in the control tower”.
NATS is training additional air traffic controllers but will be months before they become operational.
“Even an experienced air traffic controller takes at least nine months to qualify at Gatwick and very few are able to do so, as Gatwick is such a busy and complex air traffic environment.”
Easyjet was ‘extremely disappointed’ by the continued disruption. An easyJet spokesperson said:
“We are extremely disappointed that customers are once again being impacted by this and while this is outside of our control, we are sorry for the inconvenience caused to our customers.
“We are doing all possible to minimise the impact of the disruption and have notified those on cancelled flights of their options to rebook or receive a refund and are providing hotel accommodation and meals where required.”
A London Gatwick spokesperson said:
“Due to short notice sickness in the air-traffic control tower including cases of Covid-19, temporary air traffic control restrictions were put in place yesterday. This caused some delays and cancellations by airlines.
“We worked hard to minimise disruption and we apologise for any inconvenience. The air-traffic control tower is fully staffed this morning.”
A spokesperson for Nats said:
“We very much regret that some passengers experienced delays at Gatwick yesterday. This was due to short-notice staff sickness including some incidences of Covid.
“We did all we could to minimise disruption, working closely with the airport and airlines.
“We have worked very hard to increase the number of controllers, but it will take some time to build full resilience. It does mean, though, that short notice absences may lead to air-traffic control regulations being applied in order to maintain safety, and we are all very sorry for the impact this has.”
Your rights when your flight is cancelled
According to European air rules, passengers whose flights are cancelled are entitled to travel on any other airline that has seats available on the original day of travel, at easyJet’s expense.
Passengers whose flights are grounded with less than two weeks’ notice are also entitled to cash compensation of £220 (or £350 for flights over 1,500km), unless easyJet can rebook them on a flight with similar arrival times.