Refund my flight! Who pays when air traffic control sparks chaos?
Chalkmarks: Arrival to Ibiza February 2023

Good morning. This is what happened in the world of travel this week: Friday 1st September 2023

Sorry for the inconvenience! That was the message put out after the UK air traffic control system sparked out like an old computer on Bank Holiday Monday. The National Air Traffic Service, which manages UK airspace tweeted they were “experiencing a technical issue” and “we apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.” We all know what that means: You’re on your own! Yes, holidays are not always a beach. There are airports, airlines, borders, security and a huge amount of complexity that goes into flying us half way around the world for two weeks in the sun. And now we also know, there are dodgy flight plans. We take it all for granted and when a computer crashes it’s a pain in the plane! This is what happened on this week’s front pages.

Where do you want to go!

Bank Hols Day 1: Around 8.30am Nats became aware of a “technical issue” affecting air traffic control, and at 12.52pm it posted a message on X to confirm a failure of it systems. Initially, there was no obvious meltdown. Departure and arrival boards at Gatwick and Heathrow were showing no cancellations or delays. Was this a sinister cyber attack or an incompetent Bank Holiday staff pressing the wrong buttons? By 3.15pm the glitch had been “identified and remedied” but the problem had been passed on to passengers and airlines. Everything went pear-shaped. Hundreds of flights were grounded on one of the busiest days of the travelling year as families returned home at the end of the summer holidays while others missed their trips abroad. Some passengers were stuck on the tarmac while many were told they couldn’t fly for days. Those holed up in airports turned to the bars, which soon ran dry. Sky News broke the story.

Tuesday Day 2: Flight cancellation chaos was splashed across the front pages: Chaos all week as air traffic control fails, said the Telegraph, Get me out of air! wrote the Sun, and the Metro went for Air traffic computer chaos. We learned up to 500 flights in and out of the UK had been cancelled affecting up to 1 million travellers, in what had been the biggest air traffic control meltdown in 20 years. Good Morning Britain brought us the nightmare stories of passengers trapped in airports, saying no one was telling them what was happening.

Wednesday Day 3: Once again the story made the front pages but the papers turned to blame and claim. Flights hell families £1,000s out of pocket said the Daily Mirror, Not a penny to compensate air chaos victims, wrote the Daily Mail, and UK airlines accused of abandoning passengers, said the i. Nats was blamed for the air traffic control failure and airlines were blamed for failing to help passengers. Experts said passengers were unlikely to get compensation because airlines were not at fault. Instead this was an “extraordinary” circumstance. However, Which? magazine said airlines were required to offer food, drink, accommodation and to rebook passengers on the first available flight. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said they were doing everything they could to minimise disruption.

Thursday Day 4: The story moved off the front pages but there was still news inside. The number of affected flights rose to 1,600. We learned the IT glitch was caused by an “unusual piece of data” that Nats software “didn’t recognise” – and that led its computers to stop for safety reasons. Its boss Martin Rolfe apologised… again. He talked about how these things happen but didn’t mention compensation. The easyJet boss Johan Lundgren called for a full independent review, adding this “must not happen again.” It is now difficult to book flights to much of Europe with spare seats being taken up to clear the backlog. The airlines are calling for compensation to recoup an estimated £100 million loss. The Guardian picks up the story.

Today Day 5: The papers have returned to Airport Mode with little coverage of the ongoing chaos. Maybe there are no more surprises to come and it’s time to hand over to the airlines to quietly go about their business. Travellers are still waiting for flights, and crew and aircraft are out of position. The Independent shares the story of one traveller who made it back to Norwich after travelling overland for 63 hours from Croatia, at a cost of £2,000. Today the Transport Secretary Mark Harper is meeting with aviation bosses to “discuss the situation”. Will he ask the question: Who will pay the price for this chaos? We all know the answer to that one. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Buckle up: This week Money Mail revealed how airline add-ons such as charging extra to take luggage on board or paying for a seat had soared in the last ten years. Alarmingly, easyJet add-ons have gone up by 78 per cent from £11.38 to £20.22. At Ryanair they calculated holidaymakers were paying 70 per cent more since 2013, with add-ons costing £19.56.  Matthew Adamo from 777 Partners, said this was a case of “taking cash whilst they can get it”. He said: “They want to push the envelope on fares and ancillaries as much as they can until they find out where that point is, where the passenger substitutes away or just doesn’t travel.” Despite the recent rising costs of flights post-pandemic, Susannah Streeter at Hargreaves Lansdown, added: “For now, these price hikes don’t seem to be putting off passengers from splashing the cash.” She warned there may come a tipping point for these extras.

Sun, sea and storms: Sunseekers on the island of Mallorca may have wished they had stayed at home in the UK after 75mph winds hit the holiday island. On Sunday, the storm brought heavy rain and flooding. Sun loungers were thrown around and trees came down. A cruise ship hit an oil tanker leaving six injured and passengers on board a flight to the Mediterranean hotspot feared for their lives when they were caught in terrifying turbulence. They landed safely. Sky News has more. 

Highly rated: British Airways, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic have the best websites for booking a flight while Ryanair, and Tui have the worst. That was the result from analysis of 11 airlines. The Civil Aviation Authority rated the websites based on how easy they were to navigate and make a booking – especially for travellers with fewer digital skills and who might have accessibility needs. Anna Bowles, at the CAA, said: “Our skies should be accessible to everyone, and that journey often starts with a visit to an airline’s website.”

Have you seen our pictures: Our fantastic travel photos, which capture some of our favourite destinations around the world, are now available for sale on Alamy. Woohoo!

Rolling and riding: The world’s coolest water sport in the world’s coldest waters – way up in the Arctic Circle. There are six of us at the Unstad Camping surf school in the Lofoten Islands, northern Norway. It might not be the place to sunbathe but Unstad Beach on Vestvågøy island offers some of the best waves in the world. While it’s easy to think that a trip into these Polar isles would be blisteringly cold given that they lie further north than Iceland and parts of Alaska, it is actually warmer than you’d think because of the Gulf Stream that sweeps across the Atlantic Ocean. This means there’s are no polar bears or sea ice. The average winter temperature is around the same as in Britain while in the summer it has been known to hit 30C. The landscape is stunning with needle peaked granite mountains covered in fresh snow and paradise-white beaches that provide the perfect playground for outdoor-types. Watch us go

I scream: An ice cream van beside the Houses of Parliament on Westminster Bridge has been brought to justice after charing £7 for a traditional 99 Flake. A lot of people were very angry. One mother paid £28 for four ice creams. Eventually someone called the police and the ice cream van was impounded. See you in court. How do you plead to this ice crime? Guilty! The Daily Mirror had the summertime scandal.

This time last year: Get ready to travel this autumn! Everything you need to know The Civil Aviation Authority reported most flights ran late by about 8 minutes 30 seconds … And the Guardian reported that last year Wizz Air came out worst with delays of 14 minutes and 24 seconds … Ryanair launched its biggest winter schedule of more than 3,000 daily flights from UK airports with new routes to Lapland, Finland, Rome, ItalyStockholm, Sweden, and Grenoble, France … More rail strikes were announced … A residential cruise ship named The World arrived in Scotland as part of its continuous global travel itinerary … Eurostar announced it would axe its direct service from London St Pancras to Disneyland Paris – aka Marne-la-Vallee – from June 2023 … Gibraltar became a city… again! … It turned out the British Overseas Territory aka the Rock had applied for city status during the late Queen Liz’s Platinum Jubilee year … Researchers discovered it had already been granted by Queen Victoria in 1842 and nobody ever knew … Boris Johnson said it was “excellent” news. The BBC had the story. 

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