MARK PALMER: The UK's flight chaos is yet another travel foul-up08/28/2023
MARK PALMER: The UK’s flight chaos is yet another travel foul-up… and with the worst possible timing
- The immediate future of travellers returning to Britain remains up in the air
- READ MORE: Flight chaos to last for DAYS: Thousands of stranded Brits warned disruption will continue into the week despite ‘network failure’ being ‘remedied’
The initial statement by the National Air Traffic Services had a depressingly familiar ring to it: ‘We are currently experiencing a technical issue… engineers are working to find and fix the fault.’
And then came that dreadful phrase which seems to haunt us at every turn: ‘We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.’
It’s the refrain we hear over and over again, whether travelling by plane, train or road. No surprise then, except that on this occasion we had no idea of the full extent and implications of the ‘technical issue’. We’re still somewhat in the dark about it.
Now, unlike hundreds of planes all over Europe which were grounded, the immediate future of travellers returning to Britain remains up in the air – and will continue to be so for at least the next 48 hours, perhaps a lot longer, while the backlog of flights is cleared.
For this to happen at any time is bad; for the system to go down on a bank holiday Monday when millions of people are returning home after the summer holidays is a devastating blow.
MARK PALMER: The immediate future of travellers returning to Britain remains up in the air – and will continue to be so for at least the next 48 hours
Confidence about travel overseas has been rocked yet again. Yes, these things happen, but technical issues have become a recurring problem, and they won’t go away without major investment. ‘The system’s at breaking point,’ a senior aviation source told the Mail. ‘And it’s becoming clear that the technical infrastructure is not up to the job’.
During the last May bank holiday, British Airways’ IT problems led to numerous flight cancellations, albeit not as many as when the airline’s computer system failed in 2017, leaving more than 75,000 passengers stranded over a bank holiday weekend. What’s more, this summer has seen passport e-gates go on the blink and there’s been an increase in the number of bags not arriving at their destination as a result of technical faults.
NATS, with its headquarters in Whiteley, Hampshire, employs 4,500 people, including 1,700 air traffic controllers, and operates as a private/public company under the auspices of the Civil Aviation Authority.
The problem yesterday was with its ‘planning system’, meaning controllers were told to manually process all flights arriving in and leaving the UK. This clearly slowed down the system significantly and also meant that priority had to be given to those flights that had already taken off and especially those with only a finite amount of fuel before they were scheduled to land.
During the last May bank holiday, British Airways’ IT problems led to numerous flight cancellations
Transport Secretary Mark Harper appeared to be anonymous for much of the day, saying only – after the issue had been ‘remedied’ – that his department was doing ‘all we can’ to support NATS.
READ MORE: ‘It’s been a s*** show!’: Tearful tourists stranded at London Heathrow due to UK air traffic control meltdown tell of chaos and confusion at Europe’s busiest airport as flights are cancelled
Airlines and airports have been able to claim, with justification, that they were not responsible for what happened, although passengers have complained about not being properly informed or not being informed at all about what was going on.
‘As ever, there has been a breakdown in communication and it’s incumbent on the airlines to liaise with NATS – and then pass on accurate information to their passengers,’ said Julia Lo Bue-Said, of Advantage Travel, which represents independent travel agents.
Those waiting to return home will have to find hotels to stay in, especially from places that have only one or two flights a week. This won’t be easy, but will be expensive.
One Mail reader said last night that when she was looking for a hotel near Zurich airport, she was quoted 214 euros a room at the start of the conversation, but that had risen to 340 euros by the end.
The normal wrangling will now begin over refunds and compensation. It will be enough to make people long for another holiday – but overseas holidays are in danger of becoming an endurance test. And that’s profoundly disappointing.
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