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Delayed passengers ‘penned in and hungry’ with ‘no clue’ when they can fly

Holidaymakers whose flights have been cancelled or delayed due to a “technical issue” that wiped out the UK’s air traffic control have described being left without communication or access to food and drink.

The “network-wide failure” left hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded in airports across the world and despite the technical issue being resolved, the knock-on impact means many still face chaos and disruption.

Some passengers remain stuck on grounded planes or in crowded terminals with airlines warning that check-in desks are temporarily closed and that flights may not take off until late on Monday night at the earliest.

CRAWLEY, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: People wait near check-in desks at Gatwick Airport on August 28, 2023 in Crawley, United Kingdom. The United Kingdom's air traffic control systems have grounded thousands of flights on one of the busiest travel days of the year. All flights to and from the UK are reported to be affected and delays could last for days. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
People wait near check-in desks at Gatwick Airport as the UK’s air traffic control system encounters a fault, grounding thousands of flights on one of the busiest travel days of the year (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Among those affected is 32-year old marketing manager Laura Bailey who had been stationary on the tarmac at Palma Airport for nearly four hours waiting for her Jet2 flight to take off when she spoke to i.

She was returning from a holiday in Mallorca which had been disrupted by storms that meant Palma airport was already in “chaos” before the air traffic failure.

Ms Bailey said that her flight, which was supposed to take off at 11.35am, had been delayed until at least 4pm. “Now they are saying UK air space is open and taking flights but everyone has dropped out of the system and thousands of flights are trying to get back in,” she said.

She added that her fellow passengers were “content” but “obviously tired and hungry”, adding: “We have been provided with drinks and snacks but it’s slow and they’ve run out of most things now.”

Molly Geehan, a passenger on a Jet2 flight from Zakynthos, Greece, to the East Midlands, said that an announcement that her plane should be able to start its engines by around 1.45pm – around two-and-a-half hours after she boarded – was met with claps and cheers.

“It’s the fear of the unknown that I’m struggling with, as I’m an anxious flyer anyway,” she told i.

Ms Geehan added that though official updates had been few and far between, the crew were “great”, handing out free food and drinks as they waited on the tarmac.

Back in the UK, Jada Bas and her family had been left waiting more than two hours for updates on their Pegasus flight to Turkey from Stansted airport by early Monday afternoon.

“Babies are crying galore, we’re all hungry, people have resigned to sitting on the floor, and I’m losing valuable tanning time,” Ms Bas told i from her Stansted departure lounge.

She added that after waiting for an hour for any initial announcement to be made, she had been told they could be delayed until 7pm.

Meanwhile, David Langston, whose Jet2 flight from Ibiza was delayed for several hours, told i that he was “just hoping we get home today”.

Mr Langston, who was travelling with his wife, brother and sister in law “after a long weekend break kid free” said that the “general consensus” is that the delay would be “long”. It would have been “good to know a timeframe, as the uncertainty is the unsettling part”, he added.

“We have found more info online than the staff have shared with us but they have all disappeared now – obviously awaiting instruction – and have no more info to offer.”

He said that on the airport board he could see a Manchester-bound flight which was supposed to take off at 12.15pm had been revised to 5am on Tuesday.

While some affected passengers reported having received food and drinks vouchers from airlines, others were not so lucky.

Travellers wait near the British Airways check-in area at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Hollie Adams/Reuters)

“[We are] all penned in and very crowded, with no offer of food and drink, and still none the wiser as to what is happening or when it will be resolved,” Jack Stoneham, a TUI passenger, told i.

Mr Stoneham, who was scheduled to fly from Naples, Italy to Gatwick at 12.05pm, said that there had been “zero communication” about the status of his flight.

After waiting nearly three hours and watching his flight disappear from the airport boards, he said passengers were instructed to leave the boarding area and return to the main hub of the airport, but claimed that they had still received no information or compensation.

By 5pm, Mr Stoneham said they had been on-board the plane for nearly two hours, yet were still sat on the tarmac.

Fellow TUI passenger Rebecca McCahill told i that her flight from Porto Santo airport to Manchester had been given a new slot to fly at 4pm from its original 11.50am departure time.

Ms McCahill said that as of 3.30pm, her flight had boarded but with the UK still limiting who they are letting in and a priority reportedly placed on long-haul flights, she feared they may have to travel somewhere else for the night.

“We can’t stay here as there are no hotel rooms available for us,” she said. “They don’t know where they are taking us yet, but [I] don’t think it’s looking like it will be the UK tonight.”

Airlines advised other passengers not to travel to the airport without checking the status of their upcoming flight, leaving many on social media questioning what to do.

Aimee Chamberlain, 25, who is trapped in Lanzarote with a friend, told i that she had been due to fly to Gatwick on Monday at 6.30pm but that her flight had been delayed until 4am on Tuesday.

When she checked her flight tracker app, Ms Chamberlain said the plane was still in London.

“It’s that sort of decision – what do we do?” she said. “If the flight’s not even left London then we’re just going to be going to the airport to sit there.

“It’s not like the London airports like Heathrow or Gatwick. I know they’re going to be jam packed as it is right now and there’s nothing really there to sit and do.”

Even if her flight does go ahead at its newly-scheduled departure time, Ms Chamberlain added that the significant delay would likely impact her ability to be back in time to return to work.

What airlines have said

  • easyJet has apologised for the disruption and said it is providing customers on cancelled flights with the option to transfer their flight free of charge or receive a refund
  • British Airways said its flights are being “severely disrupted” and the airline is “working closely” with NATS to understand the impact
  • Ryanair said it had been forced to delay or cancel “a number of flights” to and from the UK. It “sincerely” apologised for the issue which is “beyond Ryanair’s control”
  • Jet2 says the technical fault has affected “all airlines” and “all flights departing and returning to the UK are expected to experience significant delays”
  • Tui warned of “significant delays” and also apologised for the inconvenience caused
  • Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic urged passengers to check the status of their flight before heading to the airport
  • Loganair is offering passengers travelling today the opportunity to rebook within the next 48 hours

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