Thousands of passengers flying to and from London Gatwick are stranded after at least 70 flights were cancelled – with staff shortage in the airport control tower partly blamed for the disruption.
During one of the busiest weeks of the year for air travel, delays built up through Monday morning at the Sussex airport. By mid-afternoon the cancellations and diversions began.
Thirty flights were cancelled by easyJet, which is by far the largest airline at Gatwick. They included two round trips to both Geneva and Paris CDG. Two easyJet flights were diverted to Stansted as pressure on the single runway intensified.
Gatwick airport tweeted: “Disruption this evening has been caused by last minute staff shortages at the control tower and also air traffic restrictions due to poor weather conditions across Europe.”
A spokesperson for the Sussex airport later said: “Gatwick has more flights to Europe than any other UK airport and can be impacted disproportionately by disruption on the Continent.
“We are working closely with our airline partners to minimise disruption and apologise to any passengers who may be inconvenienced.”
Air-traffic control services at Gatwick and across the UK are run by Nats. A spokesperson for the organisation said: “Air-traffic control restrictions were put in place yesterday evening due to poor weather across Europe and a short notice staffing issue affecting our air-traffic control team at Gatwick airport.
“This was done to ensure that traffic could continue to be managed safely. We worked closely with the airport and airlines to minimise disruption as far as possible, and we sincerely apologise for any inconvenience it caused.”
On Tuesday, easyJet has made a dozen more cancellations, including a round-trip to Bodrum in Turkey, with air-traffic control restrictions generally cited as the reason for grounding the flights.
An estimated 11,000 passengers were booked on the cancelled departures. Under European air passengers’ rights rules they are entitled to be rebooked to their destination as soon as possible. But with flights typically 90 per cent full, there is little scope for finding immediate alternatives.
Even though the airlines were not responsible, they must pick up the bill for hotel accommodation and meals for stranded passengers.
These figures exclude the grounded flights from the UK to Catania in eastern Sicily, which are currently all grounded. Fire has affected the airport terminal.
While the airport has reopened to flights from within the European Union and the wider Schengen Area, there is not yet scope to open the “non-Schengen” area.
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