No hotels or water and not even a blanket for those stranded after UK air traffic meltdown

Holidaymakers left scrambling for hotels following country's worst airport glitch in a decade

What is happening at UK airports?

What is happening at UK airports?
Powered by automated translation

Katrina Harrison and her family – including her one-year-old twin grandchildren – were forced to spend the night at Leeds Bradford Airport after their flight to Antalya in Turkey was cancelled due to the UK's worst air-traffic breakdown in a decade.

No hotels were available and the airport shops had run out of food, she said on Tuesday.

“We were given a bottle of water, a Kit Kat and a packet of crisps but no proper food,” she said.

"Apparently some people have got vouchers but we haven’t been given any. All the shops sold out of food and drink last night.

"We weren’t given a blanket, we’ve been absolutely freezing. There were no hotels to stay in, we couldn’t get the car out of the car park."

Thousands of passengers like Ms Harrison had to find emergency accommodation after airlines cancelled flights in and out of the UK because of Monday's air-traffic control breakdown.

On one of the busiest travel days of the year, the UK's automated flight-planning system shut down, forcing controllers to revert to manual input, which meant they could handle lower volumes of planes only. The fault was resolved but the knock-on consequences continue.

A departure board at London Heathrow, the UK's busiest airport, on Tuesday morning showed 78 delayed flights and 32 cancellations. That compares with more than 170 cancelled flights on Monday. Gatwick Airport, the second major hub in London, suffered 23 cancellations on Tuesday, data from Flight Tracker showed.

It has led Transport Secretary Mark Harper to launch an independent review into the incident. He has warned it will take days to resolve the issues.

Milo McConaghy, 30, was at Gatwick as the problems played out. He told The National: “There were horrible scenes yesterday. It was absolute mayhem. I couldn't speak to anyone, I couldn't get any news."

But on Tuesday there had been “an absolute turn around”. He added: “No one is sleeping on the floor now. Everyone seems chipper.

“I'm on my way to Dubrovnik now, just at the gate and hopefully everything will go well.”

Others have not been as lucky. Jordan Maides was due to fly back from Alicante to Bristol on Monday to return to work on Tuesday after the long Bank Holiday weekend.

But he has been told the earliest rescheduled flight will not be for six days and has been given information on neither accommodation nor cost.

“Our flight ALC-BRS has been cancelled. No further information on accommodation. You’ve told us we have to get our original transfer to the airport today. We all have work tomorrow,” he wrote to easyJet on Monday.

“Are you going to compensate us for loss of earnings, food for us to stay here six more days and the fine for our car that’s parked in Bristol airport?! Our holiday was only for four nights?!”

British Airways and easyJet warned passengers against travelling to airports on Tuesday without checking their flight status, as it might be delayed or cancelled.

Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline have also advised travellers to and from the UK that there may be delays.

Calvin Monaghan was due to travel from Milan to Heathrow with British Airways and has faced similar accommodation issues.

“Our flight was cancelled yesterday, Milan-Heathrow FN BA0585. The earliest we can get back is Thursday the 31st,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“We were told that our hotel would be covered for the three nights. We arrived at the hotel and they have booked one night only.”

Back in the UK, Ms Harrison described the toll of the overnight wait for a new flight. “We haven’t slept, we tried to sleep on the floor but couldn’t," she said on Tuesday. "Luckily the children could sleep in the pram.

“The holiday was supposed to be a family celebration. We’ve spent £12,000 [$15,095] on it and we’ve been treated like muck.

“We’re hoping to get on a flight tonight but if it doesn’t happen we’ll have to go home. We can’t keep sitting here with the babies.”

Rafal Batko and his family, from Sheffield, also spent the night at the Leeds airport after their flight to Krakow in Poland was cancelled.

“We’ve been here for 17 hours. We tried to get into a hotel but there was no space because everyone was in the same position,” he said.

“It’s stressful but fingers crossed we’ll get on one today. If not we’ll have to go home, we are tired and everything is too expensive to buy.”

A family from Cork, Ireland, complained they had to pay £599 for a hotel when AerLingus cancelled their flights from Heathrow.

“Stuck in London Heathrow after two cancelled flights with my wife, elderly mother, a two-year-old and 10-year-old child,” K Newton wrote on X.

“Ground staff are as blindsided as we are. No vouchers, no accommodation. Kids are asleep on the floor. This is a disgrace!!”

The systems were restored on Tuesday but returning to normal service could take several days because aircraft are out of position.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said issues of this magnitude “haven’t happened for a decade” as he ruled out a cyberattack on Sky News.

The glitch on Monday coincided with one of the busiest long weekends for travel, with the UK on a national holiday and summer holidaymakers returning home.

In total, 790 flights from UK airports on Monday were cancelled – equivalent to about 27 per cent of all departures – and almost the same amount of incoming flights were axed, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium.

Ryanair said more than 20 of its aircraft were unable to get back to their home bases on Monday night.

“While the majority of passengers will still be able to travel, there will unfortunately be some disruption on some routes, including flight cancellations,” a spokesman for London’s Heathrow airport said.

“It is important for all passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to Heathrow.”

“What has annoyed us more is we have been told ‘just sit and wait around’, with the extra expense of hotels and things,” delayed air passenger Kirsty Fawcett said.

“What if we didn’t have money spare?”

Updated: August 29, 2023, 2:16 PM