Air traffic control failure: what are my rights if my flight is cancelled or … – The Times

Qin Xie and Cathy Adams
Monday August 28 2023, 17:34pm
Hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers are experiencing significant delays after an air traffic control failure meant UK flight plans had be manually inputted, with major airlines warning of delays and cancellations.
While the issue has now been identified resolved, National Air Traffic Services (Nats), which controls UK airspace, has applied “traffic flow restrictions” — which means far fewer planes are allowed in the skies, and guaranteed delays for passengers whether or not they’re flying to the UK. If you’re travelling, here’s what you need to know.
For several hours on Monday, August 28, there was a technical issue affecting the operation of air traffic control systems in the UK. While the UK airspace wasn’t completely shut down, for safety reasons air traffic over the UK was restricted. This affected flights to and from the UK, as well as those flying over UK airspace to other destinations.
The issue has now been resolved, but the backlog of flights means many flights remain delayed and some will have to be cancelled.
A statement from Nats said: “We have identified and remedied the technical issue affecting our flight planning system this morning. 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: “The flight planning issue affected the system’s ability to automatically process flight plans, meaning that flight plans had to be processed manually which cannot be done at the same volume, hence the requirement for traffic flow restrictions. 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. Please contact your airline for information on how this may affect your flight.”
All flights to and from the UK will experience severe delays and many will likely be cancelled. According to the flight data firm Cirium, 3,049 flights (with about 540,000 seats) were due to depart UK airports on Monday, August 28. A similar number — 3,054 — were scheduled to arrive. Delays will also be experienced by planes due to fly over the UK airspace, although they may be rerouted in some cases.
As at 2.30pm, Cirium data showed that more than 500 UK flights were cancelled. That worked out at 232 departing flights, equivalent to around 8 per cent of all departures; and 271 arriving flights, equating to 9 per cent of all arrivals.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Schedules will remain significantly disrupted for the rest of the day. We ask passengers to only travel to the airport if their flight is confirmed as still operating. Teams across Heathrow are working as hard as they can to minimise the knock on impacts and assist those whose journeys have been affected.”
In a statement, British Airways said it was forced to make “significant changes” to its schedule today, August 28, warning that if passengers were booked to fly short-haul they should not set off without checking whether the flight was operating.
It said: “Like all airlines using UK airspace, our flights have been severely disrupted as a result of a major issue experienced by Nats Air Traffic Control earlier today. While Nats has now resolved the issue, it has created significant and unavoidable delays and cancellations. We’re working as hard as possible to get customers whose flights have been affected on their way again and have apologised for the huge inconvenience caused.”
BA is advising customers who are travelling on a short-haul service on Monday, August 28, not to go to the airport before confirming their flight is operating. Additionally, passengers booked on services from August 28-29 can move their flights to a later date for free.
EasyJet has said that customers currently on a flight will be updated by crew on board, while those at the airport should check flight information screens in the terminal and on the easyJet app. Passengers scheduled to travel later today should continue their plans as normal — easyJet will be issuing updates via email and SMS to the contact details on the booking.
Ryanair said: “Due to another UK ATC failure, Ryanair will be forced to delay/cancel a number of flights to/from the UK today, Monday, 28 August. All affected passengers will be notified of their options to change flights (free of charge) to another Ryanair flight or receive a full refund.”
Tui warned that passengers should expect “significant delays” due to the air traffic control situation.
Some regional flights are still operating however. Loganair said: “Although we are hopeful of being able to operate most intra-Scotland flights on the basis of local co-ordination and with a minimum of disruption, north-south and international flights may be subject to delays. If you are flying with us today, please check our website for the latest information about your flight before setting off for the airport.”
If you’re due to fly today, make sure your airline has the correct contact details for you so they can update you on the status of your flight, whether that’s a delay or cancellation. Download the app for the airline you’re travelling with if you haven’t already done so as they will likely issue updates there as well.
If you’re already at the airport, it’s best to check the flight updates at the terminal. And if you haven’t set off yet, check the advice issued by your airline. In some cases you’ll be told to proceed with your travel plans as normal, while in other cases you’ll be told not to travel to the airport at all.
For passengers in France, Eurostar has announced it will run an extra service from Paris to London at 20.43 on Monday, August 28.
This technical fault is an issue with air traffic control rather than the airlines affected; cases like this fall under the definition of “extraordinary circumstances”. It means you won’t be due any compensation if your flight is cancelled or delayed, but the airline you’re travelling with still has certain legal obligations and a duty of care.
For cancelled flights, you’ll be offered a full refund for the affected journey as well as any linked journeys, such a connecting flight or return flight, on the same booking. An alternative flight might also be offered as an alternative. You can learn more about your rights in relation to cancelled flights here.
If your flight is delayed, your airline has certain duty-of-care obligations. This includes providing you with food and drink after delays of a certain length, some way for you to communicate such as free phone minutes or data, and overnight accommodation if necessary. Because all flights to and from the UK are affected, it may be that you’ll be provided with vouchers, or will have to pay these expenses yourself and claim these back at a later date, so do keep hold of any receipts.
If you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy, you may be able to claim back some of the expenses related to your trip, such as an excursion you’ve booked but can no longer go on. Check the fine print for what is and isn’t covered and make sure you get written confirmation for the cause of the delay or cancellation.
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