Get us in your inbox

Uk airport, Stansted, with planes
Photograph: Nigel A Messenger /

All you need to know about the UK air traffic control chaos, from cancelled flights to how to get a refund

After Monday’s technical glitch, travel disruption is expected for the rest of the week

Amy Houghton
Written by
Amy Houghton

Yesterday, on one of its busiest travel days of the year, air travel in the UK basically went into full-on meltdown. Thanks to an air traffic control failure on a vast scale, the August Bank Holiday saw thousands of British travellers stranded in airports abroad and thousands more waiting to fly out of the country. Not ideal, to say the least. 

It was the worst air traffic control outage in ten years and comes as ground handling staff at Luton Airport are due to strike later this week. Though the actual fault only lasted several hours, it will continue to impact hundreds more flights over the next few days. It’s safe to say that if you had a holiday planned this week, prepare yourself for a bit of chaos. Here’s what we know about the UK’s ATC failure and how it could impact your travel plans. 

Why was there an air traffic control failure in the UK?

There was apparently a ‘network-wide failure’ across all of the UK’s air traffic control computer systems. The glitch meant that the system was unable to automatically process flight plans and instead staff had to input information manually. Traffic flow restrictions then had to be enforced, as staff couldn’t work at the same speed as the automated system. 

How many flights will be affected?

An estimated 1,200 flights were cancelled and many more others were delayed on Monday. The exact number of flights that will be affected isn’t known, though all flights from or into the UK are at risk. 

Major airlines including Tui and British Airways continue to warn of ‘significant delays’ amid schedule changes, whilst passengers are advised to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport. 

How long will the disruption last?

Although the glitch was ‘identified and remedied’ at 3:15pm on Monday, the disruption is expected to have knock-on effects for the rest of the week. Many planes are currently in the wrong place and there’s a huge backlog of flights that need to be dealt with. 

Can I get a refund if my flight is delayed or cancelled?

As the issue was with air traffic control rather than the airlines, it falls under the definition of ‘extraordinary circumstances’. This means that companies don’t have to give any financial compensation for delayed flights. 

However, the airline does still have a duty of care and should provide food and drink and means of communication after delays of a certain length, plus overnight accommodation if needed. 

For cancelled flights you should be offered an alternative journey or a full refund, which includes the price of any affected return journeys.

Did you see that six years after it collapsed, this much-loved UK airline could soon return?

Stay in the loop: sign up to our free Time Out UK newsletter for the latest UK news and the best stuff happening across the country.

You may also like
You may also like