Recent Flight Disruptions in the UK

Written by Mahima Chhaparia

سبتمبر 27, 2023


Over the last few months, the United Kingdom has experienced a series of significant flight disruptions. Attributed to a combination of factors, these disruptions have resulted in delayed, cancelled, and rerouted flights across various airports in the country. A shortage of air traffic controllers and a massive technical issue are some of the primary causes contributing to this chaotic situation. 

On 28 August, significant disruption was experienced across the UK airspace following an incident affecting part of the technical infrastructure. The incident led to the cancellation of over 1500 flights on 28 August and many more cancellations over the next two days. At least 575 flights were delayed on 28 August as well. While the airspace of the country remained open throughout the incident, the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) introduced several air traffic flow restrictions to maintain safety. 

flight disruption

On 14 September, a ‘short-notice staff absence’ led to diversions, delays and cancellations at Gatwick Airport. Due to a shortage of air traffic controllers, over 40 flights were cancelled or diverted with some travellers finding themselves as far away as Belgium and Wales. NATS and airport authorities issued apologies for staffing shortages and claimed to be fully-staffed on 15 September. A similar incident was reported on 6 September. 

On 25 September, London’s Gatwick Airport was hit by major disruption after an outbreak of sickness, including COVID-19, in the air traffic controllers’ tower. According to the NATS, around a third of the air traffic control staff had been hit by illnesses, including COVID-19. The exact number of cases linked to the outbreak have not been officially disclosed. In response, authorities have imposed a daily cap of 800 flights arriving and departing at Gatwick Airport until 1 October to maintain safety. The cap is in place to avoid last-minute cancellations. At least 164 flights have already been cancelled due to this incident. Further cancellations are possible. 

The recent issues are likely to have economic repercussions, including financial losses for airlines and airports, as well as potential long-term effects on the reputation of the UK aviation industry. The shortage of air traffic controllers has also placed immense pressure on the aviation industry, with major airports, like Gatwick, struggling to maintain normal operations. 

The unexpected COVID-19 outbreak among air traffic controllers adds a layer of complexity to an already challenging scenario, as efforts to contain the virus and ensure public safety collide with the demands of air travel. The outbreak has also raised concerns about the continued impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry, has led to a temporary halt in numerous flights and raised questions about the efficacy of safety measures in place at airports. 

In conclusion, the recent flight disruption in the UK have underscored the fragility of the aviation sector when faced with unexpected challenges. The shortage of air traffic controllers has exposed a vulnerability in the system, prompting a crucial reevaluation of staffing and contingency plans. Simultaneously, the COVID-19 outbreak among air traffic controllers serves as a stark reminder of the still ongoing impact of the pandemic on essential services.

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