Thousands stranded after another air-traffic control slowdown at Gatwick

Power tower: easyJet Airbus passes Gatwick airport control tower (Nats)
Power tower: easyJet Airbus passes Gatwick airport control tower (Nats)

Thousands of airline passengers have woken up far from where they intended to be due to “unavoidable staff shortage” in the air-traffic control tower at London Gatwick airport on Friday evening.

EasyJet, the main airline at the Sussex airport, cancelled dozens of flights and diverted four arrivals to Luton.

Airport officials say the air-traffic control provider, Nats, must “urgently ensure resource levels are in place to prevent disruption for our passengers”.

Gatwick is the UK’s second-largest aviation hub, after Heathrow, and the world’s busiest single-runway airport.

The grounded departures included two to each of Belfast International and Edinburgh, as well as longer flights to Malta, Mallorca and Venice.

British Airways and Wizz Air also made cancellations, while Vueling and Norwegian each diverted an inbound flight to Stansted.

The Independent estimates that more than 50 flights in total were cancelled, representing upwards of 8,000 passengers stranded on a Friday night while trying either to reach or fly from Gatwick.

A spokesperson for the air-traffic control provider, Nats, said the cause was “an unavoidable staff shortage affecting our team at the airport”.

They said: “We are working closely with the airport and airlines to minimise disruption and safely manage diversions. We apologise sincerely for the delay and inconvenience this is causing to airlines and their passengers.”

Gatwick airport’s spokesperson said: “We are working closely with Nats and airlines to minimise disruption.

“Going forward, we require Nats management to urgently ensure resource levels are in place to prevent disruption for our passengers.”

In September 2023, dozens of arrivals and departures were cancelled and cap on flights imposed after almost one-third of staff in the control tower at Gatwick were unable to work “for a variety of medical reasons including Covid”.

A spokesperson for easyJet said: “Due to Nats air traffic control staffing issues at Gatwick a significantly reduced flow rate was imposed on airlines which meant some flights to and from Gatwick have been unable to operate.

“We are doing all possible to minimise the impact of the disruption and have notified those on cancelled flights of their options.

“While this is completely outside of our control, we are sorry for the inconvenience caused to our customers.”

Under air passengers’ rights rules, stranded travellers are entitled to hotel rooms and meals, as well as onward flights as soon as possible on any airline that has seats available.

Operations at Gatwick on Saturday morning have recovered, with though with some delays of up to two hours.