Travel disarray as Scots passengers see scores of flights cancelled due to air traffic control problems
Thousands of passengers hoping to fly to and from Scottish airports saw their travel plans thrown into disarray on Monday after technical problems caused widespread disruption to the UK’s air traffic control systems.
Scores of flights in and out of Scottish airports were cancelled, with numerous other services subject to lengthy delays on what is traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year in the UK, as air traffic controllers were forced to manually input flight plans.
At Edinburgh, there were around 40 cancellations throughout the day across domestic and international services. Although the airport advised passengers not to come to the terminal before checking with their airline on the status of their flight, lengthy queues were evident at the entrance to the main check-in zone as the technical problems led to lengthy delays.
In some cases, flights that were due to depart on Monday evening were initially pushed back to Tuesday morning, as National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the country's leading provider of air traffic control services, applied traffic flow restrictions to maintain safety.
The knock-on effect of that was laid bare for passengers forced to endure long waits, with several flights experiencing delays of around five hours. While there was a continual stream of air traffic in and out of airports, the disruption was still evident as a result of the ‘flow rate’ at which aircraft can land being curbed.
There were 19 cancellations at Glasgow Airport as of late afternoon, including multiple flights between the city and London Heathrow. There were long queues at the check-in desks in the airport’s main terminal building, as passengers tried to get information from their airlines. A further 19 cancellations caused major disruption for travellers at Aberdeen Airport, while Inverness Airport also saw two cancellations, with at least 11 other flights delayed.
Students Robbie Kerr, Jamie MacDonald, and Kaylie Crews, all from Alloa, said their travel plans had been torn up after their flight from Glasgow to Amsterdam was among those cancelled. Mr Kerr said: “EasyJet have said we’ve just to go to Newcastle. They’ve told us to go to Newcastle and get the ferry to Amsterdam.”
Kevin McClintock, who set off from Newcastle on a TUI flight bound for Cancun, where he is due to spend his honeymoon with his partner, found himself stuck at Glasgow Airport on Monday afternoon. The plane had stopped there to refuel, but the air traffic control problems meant it was unable to take off again as scheduled.
“We are now being taken to the terminal and to collect our bags,” he told Sky News at 3:30pm. “The airline are trying to sort hotels for everyone. We have been on the plane in Glasgow since 11am.”
Other passengers took to social media to air their frustrations with the delays and cancellations. BBC presenter Gabby Logan wrote on Twitter that her plane was stuck on the runway at Budapest airport, adding: “After almost three 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.”
Across the UK, some 232 departures had been cancelled by 2:30pm – the equivalent of 8 per cent of the daily total. A further 271 arrivals to UK airports had also been cancelled, leaving Brits stuck at home and abroad. A total of 915 aircraft were in the UK's airspace as of 2:30pm, according to data from the flightradar24 site – that is more than double the amount the aircraft seen last Monday, when 400 planes were departing or arriving.
British Airways, which cancelled several departures and arrivals to Scotland, said its flights had been “severely disrupted”, forcing it to make “significant changes” to its schedule. Alastair Rosenschein, a former British Airways pilot turned aviation consultant, called the disruption “huge”, and said the equivalent for cars would be if every road was closed in the country.
The network-wide failure with the air traffic control systems first came to light around 11:40am after Glasgow-based Loganair, which cancelled a raft of flights to and from Scottish airports, raised the alarm on Twitter, warning there would be disruption.
Issues with the system’s ability to automatically process flight plans meant air traffic controllers had to input the plans manually while engineers scrabbled to address the underlying technical problems. NATS announced shortly after 3:15pm the issue had been identified and “remedied”, but the knock-on delays were likely to continue for some time afterwards.
In a statement, NATS said: “We are now working closely with airlines and airports to manage the flights affected as efficiently as possible. Our engineers will be carefully monitoring the system’s performance as we return to normal operations.”
It added: “Our priority is always to ensure that every flight in the UK remains safe and we are sincerely sorry for the disruption this is causing.”
UK transport secretary Mark Harper said: “The technical issue affecting NATS has now been resolved. Aviation minister Charlotte Vere and I are continuing to work with NATS to help them manage affected flights and support passengers. All passengers should still contact their airline for specific flight information.”
But Christine Jardine, the Scottish Lib Dem MP and Scotsman columnist, said there was a need for governments across the UK to address the issues and ensure there was no repeat of the travel chaos witnessed on Monday.
“This is a busy period for Scottish airports and we need Rishi Sunak and his ministers to get to grips with this as quickly as possible, hold a Cobra meeting, and make sure that the issues are managed effectively,” she said. “But we also need the Scottish Government to get in touch, to engage, and make sure they do everything they can.”
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