Flight delays could continue for several days following the technical fault in the UK’s air traffic control (ATC) system. Thousands of passengers have been left stranded at home and abroad following the problem that hit the UK system on Bank Holiday Monday.
The glitch has meant flight plans have had to be input manually by controllers, causing more than a quarter of departures and arrivals to be axed. The disruption continued into Tuesday with flights cancelled and delayed as many aircraft and crews were stuck in the wrong place.
At Heathrow Airport on Tuesday, at least 32 departures and 31 arrivals were cancelled.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said it was the worst incident of its kind in “nearly a decade” and announced an “independent review” would be carried out.
British Airways, which operates the most flights to and from the west London airport, was the worst affected airline.
There were at least 23 departures and 51 arrivals cancelled at Gatwick at Tuesday.
An unprecedented ATC systems failure in December 2014 led to widespread disruption at airports.
In relation to the latest incident, Heathrow Airport said in a statement: “Schedules continue to be affected by yesterday’s restrictions on UK airspace.
“While the majority of passengers will still be able to travel, there will unfortunately be some disruption on some routes, including flight cancellations.
“It is important for all passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to Heathrow.
“Teams across the airport continue to do everything they can to minimise the impact on passengers and support those whose journeys have been affected.”
Aviation analytics company Cirium said 790 departures and 785 arrivals were cancelled across all UK airports on Monday – equivalent to around 27 per cent of planned flights.
National Air Traffic Services (Nats), the country’s leading provider of ATC, said at 3.15pm on Monday it had “identified and remedied” the technical issue affecting its systems and it was working with airlines and airports to support affected flights.
Juliet Kennedy, operations director at Nats, said the issue meant the automatic system that provides controllers with details of every aircraft and its route stopped working.
She added: “To manage safety, we had to limit the number of flights we could manage.”
Passengers stuck in the UK and abroad described their frustration, as some had no idea when or how they would get to their destination.
Rory Dollard, 40, cricket correspondent for the PA news agency, was stuck at Bergerac Dordogne Perigord airport in France and was told it may take up to six days before he and his family – his wife Joanne, 40, and children Emily, 10, and Arthur, eight – could return home to Skipton, North Yorkshire.
Lyudmila Hristova, 57, said her and her husband’s plans to attend her niece’s wedding in Bulgaria were “ruined” after BA cancelled their 2pm flight from Heathrow to Sofia.
And a German couple were considering returning home by train after their flight from London to Stuttgart was cancelled.
Myria Mebold, 36, also said that British Airways “didn’t know anything at all” when she and her husband asked about the situation and their flight.
Major UK airlines such as Tui and BA warned of “significant delays” for passengers amid changes to schedules.
Passengers were urged by airlines to check before they leave for the airport as their flight times may have changed.