Airlines and passengers have hit back at air traffic control authorities who ordered the cancellations.
London’s Gatwick Airport is facing more flight disruption this week - but this time, it’s not down to strikes.
Air traffic controllers at the UK’s second biggest airport have been hit with COVID-19, forcing the busy transport hub to restrict flights, leaving 8,000 passengers out of position so far.
Until Sunday, a daily cap of 800 flights taking off or landing has been imposed at Gatwick to maintain safety. It is thought that 164 flights will be cancelled due to the outbreak.
The airport says it hopes the caps will help it avoid making last-minute cancellations. However airlines have hit back over the disruption. Ryanair have called for the chief executive of air traffic control (ATC) provider Nats to “step down”.
Around a third of ATC staff have been hit by illness, including COVID, according to NATS. This is estimated to be 9 or 10 staff of a total of 30.
Are flights at Gatwick cancelled due to the COVID outbreak?
Yesterday 50 flights to and from the London airport were cancelled or diverted, while other services were delayed by up to seven hours.
EasyJet made the most cancellations, with 42 flights affected.
The daily limit on flights is in place until 1 October. Friday is set to be the day worst hit by the caps, with 65 fewer flights than planned. Most airlines will have to make some cancellations but Ryanair have said they refuse to cancel flights.
“This has been a difficult decision but the action we have taken means our airlines can fly reliable flight programmes, which gives passengers more certainty that they will not face last-minute cancellations,” Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said of the caps.
“We are working closely with NATS to build resilience in the control tower, and this decision means we can prevent as much disruptions as possible,” he added.
Gatwick advises passengers to check the status of their flights with their airline before travelling.
Gatwick flights: How to find out if your flight is cancelled
The best way to find out if your Gatwick flight is still scheduled is by contacting your airline via their website, app, phone line or directly to their social media accounts- make sure to give them your contact details.
Keep an eye on the email account you made your booking with as this is the way airlines contact you about flight disruption or cancellations.
It seems it has been difficult for passengers booked on flights this week to find out whether the services are still scheduled.
Many passengers have taken to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, to seek more information. Passengers who have tweeted Gatwick airport have received a standard reply advising them to contact their airline for more information.
How have airlines reacted to the cancellations?
Irish airline Ryanair have reacted angrily to the situation at Gatwick. They have said they will not “be cancelling any flights to or from Gatwick Airport”
“It is the most basic requirement to hire and train adequate staff numbers including standby coverage,” a statement from Ryanair read, adding that it pays Nats almost €100m annually for air-traffic control services.
“It is clear that Nats CEO, Martin Rolfe, has taken no action to resolve these air-traffic control staff shortages and should now do the right thing and step down as Nats CEO so that someone competent can do the job. We call on the CAA to immediately intervene and protect passengers from this ongoing UK air-traffic control shambles.”
An easyJet spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed that customers are once again being impacted by this and while this is outside of our control, we are sorry for the inconvenience caused to our customers.
“We are doing all possible to minimise the impact of the disruption and have notified those on cancelled flights of their options to rebook or receive a refund and are providing hotel accommodation and meals where required.”
Will further COVID outbreaks hit winter travel at Gatwick?
Air traffic control service NATS has reassured passengers that its “operational resilience in the tower will improve as our staff return to work and we move out of the summer schedule, which is particularly busy at Gatwick.”
The company says it is continuing to train additional air traffic controllers and expects another group to qualify to work in the tower over the coming months.
“We will continue to recruit and train air traffic controllers at Gatwick as fast as possible to ensure we return to a fully resilient operation as soon as we can,” it added in a statement.