NATS boss on establishing cause of Air traffic control fiasco

A family of six is claimed to have forked out around £6,000 as a result of the air traffic control chaos that took hold of Britain over the past few days.

On August 12, Lee and Emma travelled to Egypt with their four children aged 15, 14, 12 and eight to spend a fortnight at the popular beach resort town of Hurghada.

While their holidays went smoothly, the family’s return to England proved to be a costly challenge which, they claimed, was made even more difficult by the lack of communication with their flight provider, easyJet.

Recalling what was initially supposed to be their last day in Hurghada, August 28, the couple said to have found out just minutes before they were due to leave their hotel for the airport that their flight had been disrupted.

The family claimed to have first learned of the issue thanks to a relative who had informed them about the travel disruption in England, which prompted them to check their own flight status.

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The family riding camels during their holidays

A family of six had to fork out £6000 as a result of the air traffic chaos (Image: GRIMSBYLIVE)

The family, initially meant to catch a flight back to Manchester Airport at 9.30pm, noticed from the flight status their departure time had been pushed back to the following morning, at 9am.

However, in the hours that followed, Lee and Emma continued to check their flight status and noticed it had been affected again, first setting their departure at 7am and then at 1am.

Lee told GrimsbyLive: “I rang the taxi back to say, ‘actually I need a taxi again’, but five minutes before the taxi collected us I refreshed the flight status and it came up that it had been cancelled.”

The father claimed that, up to that moment, easyJet had been in touch with them only through one email sent “five minutes prior to the original flight departure time to say the flight had been cancelled”.

He added: “Thankfully we didn’t go to the airport – we heard rumours that there were riots kicking off at the airport because people are stranded there without any information, so we made the choice that we would stay at the hotel because we have four children.

A queue at the airport

Thousands of people were left stranded after an air traffic control system fault grounded flights (Image: GETTY)

“The hotel were absolutely fantastic and put us up for an extra night until we found out more information.”

On Monday alone, 20 percent of UK departures and 27 percent of arrivals were cancelled as a result to a complex technical issue.

The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) chief executive, Martin Rolfe, said “flight data received” by the UK’s leading air traffic control provider caused the problem, with NATS programmes responding by suspending the automatic system normally inputting flight data.

The couple claimed to have tried and failed to reach the low-budget airline company throughout the night both via phone and social media.

They then referred to the easyJet email they had previously received, which told them they could rebook another flight home via the airline’s website. 

People at the airport queuing in front of a departure sign

The system fault happened on August bank holiday Monday (Image: GETTY)

However, the couple recalled being unable to find an easyJet flight heading to Manchester Airport despite extending their search up to September 10.

They went on to claim: “We finally managed to get hold of easyJet on Tuesday afternoon, and we got a very abrupt customer service representative who searched for alternative flights for us, and told us the next one into Manchester with EasyJet would be on September 12.

“We said, ‘If we accept that flight, what happens with our accommodation?’ and he basically said, ‘That’s your problem, I can only sort flights and it’s up to you to sort accommodation’. At that point we realised, we’ve got work and the kids have got school, and we don’t want to impact that. September 12 just wasn’t reasonable.”

The family decided to take the matter into their own hand and booked a flight home with Pegasus Airlines for September 1, which included a three-hour layover in Istanbul.

The family claimed the air traffic control chaos cost them thousands, as they had to extend their stay at their £500-a-night accommodation, find a flight home, pay for extra airport car parking, taxi cancellation fees and pet care in England.

Moreover, they claimed trying to get through to easyJet from Egypt cost them £300 in phone bills.

Emma said: “We’ve been told that easyJet will only reimburse what they deem as reasonable costs, and when I asked the man on the phone what this means, he said it was accommodation that is three-star or less. Our hotel is a five-star all-inclusive resort that we booked to celebrate my 40th birthday.

“We decided to stay here because we can’t just up and leave when loads of other people are stranded and traipse the streets looking for alternative accommodation when there’s six of us.”

Lee said to be thankful to the hotel, as he acknowledged they could have told them they were fully booked and left the family on the streets, but to be cross at easyJet.

He added: “We’re just so grateful that we didn’t go to the airport, and we just want easyJet to reimburse us for all the money we’ve spent. They’ve got no regard for people’s welfare.”

Lee and Emma subsequently claimed to GrimsbyLive that easyJet has now been in contact with them to “apologise” for the inconvenience caused.

An EasyJet spokesperson told GrimsbyLive: “The impact of the ATC systems failure on Monday was significant, affecting tens of thousands of customers. Our teams have been working around the clock since then to help our customers as quickly as possible.

“As this is one of the busiest weeks of the year this is very challenging, however we are providing hotel accommodation where it is available and operating additional repatriation flights as well as larger aircraft on many routes.

“While this was outside of our control, we are sorry for the difficulty this caused [the family] and we are in touch to assist them further.”

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