EasyJet services hit as Covid spreads through air traffic control

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Simon Calder says Gatwick Airport flight cancellations due to Covid causing staff shortages

A total of 42 easyJet flights have been cancelled as an outbreak of Covid was blamed for the third air-traffic control slowdown at London Gatwick so far this month.

Staff sickness in the control tower meant the “flow rate” of flights using the world’s busiest runway was reduced. Fifty flights to and from the Sussex airport were cancelled or diverted, while many other services were delayed by up to seven hours.

An estimated 8,000 passengers were left out of position. Eight flights were grounded between Gatwick and Belfast – six to and from the Northern Ireland capital’s International airport, and two serving Belfast City.

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: “While it is regrettable that a temporary limit on capacity at Gatwick airport is required, we believe that it is the right action by the airport so on-the-day cancellations and delays can be avoided.

“Gatwick airport and Nats now need to work on longer term plan so the resilience of air-traffic control at Gatwick is improved and fit for purpose.”

Have you been affected by cancellations? Email alexander.butler@independent.co.uk


Up to 42 easyJet flights have been cancelled at Gatwick

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live blog. Last night, an outbreak of Covid was blamed for the third air-traffic control slowdown at London Gatwick this month.

It has led to 42 easyJet flight cancellations as staff sickness in the control tower meant the “flow rate” of flights using the world’s busiest runway was reduced.

We will be bringing you live updates as this story develops.

Alexander Butler26 September 2023 09:41


Why are so many air-traffic controllers off sick at Gatwick?

Currently 30 per cent of air-traffic controllers who are qualified to work in the control tower at Gatwick are off sick, some with Covid. Many people have questioned why the absence rate is so high.

One reason: the extremely stringent conditions for an air-traffic controller to report for work. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says controllers must not be at work when “unfit to perform the duties due to injury, fatigue, sickness, stress, including critical incident stress or other similar causes” or when they are “under the influence of psychoactive substances”.

The term “psychoactive substances” includes some over-the-counter medicines that may be used to treat common ailments.

The CAA defines psychoactive substances as “alcohol, opioids, cannabinoids, sedatives and hypnotics, cocaine, other psychostimulants, hallucinogens and volatile solvents”. Caffeine and tobacco are specifically excluded.

Up to 42 easyJet flights have been cancelled due to air traffic controller sickness

(Simon Calder)

“Alcohol impairs performance at any level and the impairment increases exponentially with the amount taken,” the CAA says.

“Many medicines, whether prescribed by a doctor or obtained ‘over the counter’ or by other means (e.g. over the internet) and illicit drugs also impair performance.

“In the short term (minutes to hours) judgement and decision-making will be affected, there will be an increase in errors and risk-taking behaviour, mood changes, poor co-ordination, tracking and concentration and slow reaction times.

“Some effects can persist for several days, particularly poor balance and slow cognition.”

Alexander Butler26 September 2023 11:55


Simon Calder discusses Gatwick delays and cancellations

In his daily podcast for The Independent, travel correspondent Simon Calder discusses the unprecedented cap on the number of flights at Gatwick airport due to staff sickness among air-traffic staff in the control tower.

Alexander Butler26 September 2023 11:40


‘No issues’ at London Luton airport

There are “no issues” at London Luton, according to the airport.

Alexander Butler26 September 2023 11:25


Monday cancellations hit thousands of Gatwick passengers

Passengers with easyJet were hardest hit, with 80 cancellations. Multiple flights to and from Amsterdam, Geneva and Venice were grounded, as well as domestic links with Belfast, Inverness and Edinburgh.

Vueling cancelled a round trip between Florence and Gatwick, while a British Airways round-trip to Nice was grounded.

Under European air passengers’ rights rules, passengers are entitled to alternative flights as soon as possible, as well as hotels and meals as necessary until they reach their destination.

Simon Calder26 September 2023 11:10


‘No issues’ affecting London Stansted

There are ‘no issues’ affecting flight operations at London Stansted, the airport said.

Alexander Butler26 September 2023 10:55


Heathrow ‘operating as normal’

London Heathrow is “operating as normal”, the airport said.

Alexander Butler26 September 2023 10:38


Passenger ‘can’t believe’ lack of planning

Daniel Wilkes, a consultant psychiatrist from Angus, was booked on the 7.15pm flight from Gatwick to Edinburgh last night. It was cancelled at 8.40pm.

He told The Independent: “I just can’t believe the lack of contingency planning from Nats for staff sickness and that this is happening again.

“Plus, airports and airlines have had quite a while to firm up their processes for cancellations, and yet always the poorly managed scrum ensues. Bizarrely, we were made to exit through border control. I didn’t even have my passport as it was a domestic flight.”

Simon Calder26 September 2023 10:14