Travel chaos drags on with Nats staff shortage and manhunt border delays

As “short-notice staff sickness” triggered dozens of flight cancellations at London Gatwick airport, thousands of departing travellers face delays in the hunt for escaped terror suspect Daniel Khalife.

At least 6,000 passengers booked on 40 easyJet flights to and from Gatwick found their trips cancelled due to what the airline called “Nats air-traffic control staffing shortages”.

The shortages, caused by staff sickness, reduced the “flow rate” at which aircraft could arrive and depart at Gatwick – the world’s busiest single-runway airport.

As the biggest airline at the Sussex airport, easyJet is more affected than other carriers.

The easyJet cancellations began at 5pm with a Paris CDG service. Passengers on this and later grounded flights were told: “We’re sorry that your flight has been cancelled. This is due to air traffic control restrictions at London Gatwick airport caused by Nats air-traffic control staffing shortages.”

Two round-trips to Belfast International were cancelled, along with links to Milan, Verona and Zurich.

Other airlines affected include Norwegian from Copenhagen and Stavanger, Iberia from Madrid and Vueling from Barcelona.

Other flights operated with delays, sometimes of more than two hours.

Under European air passengers’ rights rules, travellers whose flights are cancelled for any reason are entitled to hotel accommodation, meals and alternative transport as soon as possible. But they do not qualify for cash compensation because the cause was beyond the airlines’ control.

A spokesperson for Nats said on Wednesday evening: “Air-traffic control restrictions have been put in place this afternoon due to short notice staff sickness affecting our air traffic control team at Gatwick airport.

“We are working closely with the airport and airlines to minimise disruption and apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

On 28 August, the nationwide Nats air-traffic control system failed, leading to more than 2,000 cancellations. Airlines, who face a combined bill of around £100m, are seeking compensation from Nats.

Travellers leaving the UK face delays due to police checks in the hunt for Daniel Khalife, who escaped from Wandsworth Prison in south London on Wednesday.

Because the UK has no formal border processing of outbound travellers, any additional checks add to the usual time taken to get through airport and port formalities.

One airline insider told The Independent: “It would be interesting to know how many passengers missed flights due to the search for the most wanted bloke in Britain. Caused utter havoc at several airports.”

Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, is telling passengers: “Heathrow is operating as normal. However, due to additional security checks being carried out, waiting times for departing passengers may be longer than usual.”

Gatwick airport reported no additional queues or wait times for passengers.

The Port of Dover tweeted: “Due to a police matter, there are currently enhanced checks on outbound traffic at the Port of Dover and other portals within the UK.

“Please be advised this is currently resulting in some delays at the port. However, our standard travel guidance remains unchanged and we will keep passengers updated if they can expect any alteration to their journey.”

DFDS Ferries, which sails from Dover to Calais and Dunkirk, is warning passengers of wait times of up to 90 minutes at border controls – though part of this is due to enhanced post-Brexit passport checks at French frontier posts.

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