Key Points:

  • An unexpected staff absence in the air traffic control team at Gatwick has led to massive disruptions, with flights being cancelled, delayed, or diverted to other airports, including instances where planes were grounded for hours before receiving clearance to fly to Gatwick.

  • The chaos has incited Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, to demand the resignation of Nats CEO Martin Rolfe, criticizing the recurrent disruptions and the avoidable delays caused due to staff shortages.

  • Airlines are hustling to minimize the inconvenience caused to passengers by offering rebooking options, refunds, and arranging for accommodations and meals, despite the disruption being outside of their control.

Traffic Disruption at Gatwick: Thousands Affected as ATC Staff Calls in Sick

LONDON —Widespread chaos has erupted at London’s Gatwick airport for the second time in just over a week due to unexpected staff absence in the air traffic control (ATC) tower. Thousands of travelers faced cancelled, delayed, or diverted flights, causing substantial inconvenience. The disruption, forewarned by Europe's aviation agency, Eurocontrol, to continue throughout the evening, is inducing heavy delays.

Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O’Leary, has demanded the resignation of Nats CEO, Martin Rolfe, over the recurrent disruptions, emphasizing that airlines paying millions to Nats annually should not witness such avoidable delays due to staff shortages at the UK ATC. The disruption followed a similar occurrence on 6th September and a significant system failure on 28th August that led to over 2000 flight cancellations.

In response to the crisis, Nats issued a statement confirming that they had imposed air traffic control restrictions due to short notice of staff absence at Gatwick but assured that the situation was ameliorating with a full night shift team in place, working assiduously to facilitate the recovery of airline operations. The organization conveyed its deep regret for the inconvenience caused to passengers and stakeholders.

Amidst the chaos, passengers experienced unusual landings at distant locations, including Wales, with more than a dozen flights getting diverted. Air Baltic and British Airways were amongst those facing the longest diversions, with passengers reaching Gatwick approximately five hours behind schedule. Simultaneously, Lufthansa and Air Europa had to cancel their return trips due to the turmoil, leaving passengers stranded. Tui and easyJet also redirected several of their flights to alternate airports, including Stansted and Luton.

Despite the adverse situation, airlines are mandated to arrange alternative flights promptly for stranded passengers, besides offering accommodation and meals, corresponding to the length of the delay. EasyJet, Gatwick’s largest airline, expressed its disappointment over the disruption caused by Nats’ staff shortages and assured customers of their efforts to alleviate the inconvenience through timely notifications, rebookings, and refunds. Similarly, Gatwick's spokesperson acknowledged the temporary restrictions and appreciated the efforts of Nats in maintaining operational fluidity while working towards enhanced resilience in the control tower.

As airlines grapple to restore normalcy, many passengers are left recounting their ordeal with diverted flights landing in unplanned destinations, and unprecedented delays causing discomfort and uncertainty. The recent disruptions accentuate the need for reinforced contingency measures to handle such emergencies and ensure the smooth functioning of airport operations.