Flights in and out of Britain will be disrupted for days, the U.K. government said on Tuesday, after a technical issue with the country’s air traffic control system left thousands of passengers stranded abroad or facing severe delays.
Around 280 flights were canceled on Tuesday, about 5 percent of the total scheduled to leave or arrive in Britain, according to Cirium, an aviation analytics company, compounding travel woes for British holidaymakers after more than a thousand flights were canceled the day before.
The trouble came at a particularly busy time for travelers in Britain, many of whom were returning home from summer vacation or long weekends because Monday was a public holiday in the country.
“The timing was not at all helpful for people,” Mark Harper, the government minister responsible for transport policy, told the BBC on Tuesday morning. “It’s disrupted thousands of people. Lots of flights were canceled yesterday because of the imperative to keep the system working safely, and it is going to take some days to get completely everybody back to where they should be.”
He added that the government’s technical experts had concluded that the episode was not a cyberattack.
Britain’s National Air Traffic Service, which runs air traffic control, said on Monday that a failure of the automatic system that processes plane routes meant that, for several hours, flight plans had to be entered manually.
When air traffic control issues arise, the priority is to safely land planes that are already in the air, experts said, forcing hundreds of flights to be temporarily grounded or canceled. They added that the delays continued on Tuesday in part because aircraft and crews were out of position.
Juliet Kennedy, the operations director of the air traffic service, apologized in a video on Monday night, and added that “it will take some time for flights to return to normal.” She said the company would thoroughly investigate what had caused the glitch.
Passengers have been urged to check the status of their flight with their airline before traveling to the airport.