Gatwick flights cancelled after storms and staff shortages

Up to 11,000 people stranded as London airport hit by series of problems

Bad weather, staff shortages and air space restrictions have contributed to disruption at London's Gatwick Airport. EPA
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Thousands of passengers were left in the lurch by cancellations and delays at London's Gatwick Airport, with further problems expected on Wednesday.

Up to 11,000 people were affected as bad weather and staff shortages led to the cancellation of more than 70 flights. At least eight others had already been cancelled on Wednesday morning.

The airport, one of Europe's busiest, had previously warned of potential disruption in summer.

Gatwick is arranging repatriation flights from the Greek island of Rhodes, helping holidaymakers escape escalating wildfires.

Italy's Palermo airport was affected by wildfires on Tuesday and had to close temporarily before limiting flights.

The latest problems began on Monday when unanticipated thunderstorms across Europe and a lack of air-traffic control staff led to the cancellation of one in 10 flights within 24 hours.

A Gatwick representative said “air-traffic control issues and the thunderstorms in Europe led to flying restrictions, which exacerbated the situation”.

An “unforeseen issue” further reduced the number of air-traffic controllers, they added.

National Air Traffic Services, which manages UK air space and the control tower at the airport, confirmed restrictions had been imposed to ensure safe air traffic management.

However, all flights to and from Dubai via London Gatwick are scheduled to run as normal.

“The decisions were taken to ensure that traffic could continue to be managed safely," a Nats representative said.

“We worked closely with the airport and airlines to minimise disruption as far as possible and we sincerely apologise for any inconvenience it caused."

Thirty flights were cancelled by easyJet, Gatwick's largest airline.

Another two were diverted to Stansted Airport, to the east of London, due to increased pressure on Gatwick's runway.

Thousands of passengers were forced to wait in the airport, sometimes for up to 24 hours, or to cancel their travel plans entirely. Others rebooked from Heathrow.

EasyJet has acknowledged the issue and told affected customers that they would be recompensed.

“We will always reimburse the expenses customers are due, no matter the reason for a cancellation or delay,” a representative said.

Passengers took to social media to express their frustration.

Tugba Ayaz Ogulcan was travelling with her 11-year-old child and disabled mother on Tuesday, heading from Gatwick to Bodrum in Turkey.

She told The National how she was being directed between different airport staff without receiving any definitive help.

"It was a constant back and forth of shifting responsibility," she said. "Security was following us all throughout. He also tried getting answers, but nothing."

Despite the promises, there was no clear communication.

"A representative told us to manage the booking online where options would be provided," Ms Ogulcan said. "But the app kept crashing and when able to access it at a later time. The only option provided was a flight on August 2, or a refund."

Eventually, she was forced to find alternative travel solutions.

"After checking multiple sites there were no flights with all flight providers and we had to rebook to another destination from a different departing airport to a different arrival airport for today," she said.

Gatwick Airport apologised, citing adverse weather, staff shortages and air space restrictions caused by the war in Ukraine war and ongoing strikes by staff at French airports.

The incident follows a warning by Gatwick bosses this month regarding potential disruption due to air-traffic control restrictions.

Last month, easyJet blamed such limitations for its decision to cancel 1,700 flights this summer.

Gatwick officials said they were working to restore regular service as quickly as possible.

Updated: July 26, 2023, 1:43 PM