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Air traffic control issue causes disruption at Heathrow and Gatwick – what you need to know

UPDATE: Air traffic control company NATS has confirmed that this issue was fixed on Friday afternoon and said that the flow of flights would improve following this.

Passengers are facing disruption due to a technical problem with the UK's air traffic control system – if you're affected here's what you need to know.

Air traffic control company NATS warned at lunchtime today that a technical problem with a system at the Swanwick Air Traffic Control Centre was causing some flight restrictions at Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.

European air-traffic co-ordinating agency Eurocontrol said there would be a "high" level of delays for flights arriving at Heathrow and Gatwick for the rest of the day.

It comes as passengers are also being warned of delays due to extreme weather conditions across Europe, with Heathrow Airport warning passengers to check with their airline before travelling to the airport. 

See our Flight Delays guide for full information on your rights.

I'm due to fly today – what should I do?

Keep checking the status of your flight with your airline. You can see live updates on departures and arrivals from Heathrow and Gatwick online.

Remember to take water with you when travelling in high temperatures.

I'm affected by the delays – what are my rights?

EU flight delay law applies to EU-regulated flights – so a flight that departed from an EU airport, regardless of the airline, or a flight on an EU airline that landed at an EU airport. It means you have rights if things go wrong.

If you're delayed by more than two hours:

  • You're entitled to food and drink. Your airline must look after you if you're delayed or waiting for an alternative flight if your original was cancelled. It should provide food and drink (or vouchers to buy them) if you're delayed more than two hours on a short-haul flight, three hours on medium haul (eg, Manchester to Malaga) or four hours for long haul.

    If it's unable to, you can buy your own and claim back, but make sure you keep receipts – remember only reasonable expenses are covered; it's unlikely you'd be able to claim for alcohol. Check if your airline's website has any guidance on what it'll cover.

  • You're entitled to accommodation if needed. If delayed overnight you're entitled to a hotel, and the airline must also provide transport to and from it. Ideally it would book the hotel so always check first, but if it's unable to help, try to find a reasonably priced one and keep all receipts – again it's unlikely to cover a luxury hotel.

  • You're entitled to a 'means of communication'. In practice this just means the airline's likely to reimburse you for the cost of any relevant calls you make.

Remember to keep hold of any evidence. As well as keeping receipts, note the reason you were given for the delay or cancellation and screenshot any information you may have seen on Twitter etc, as this could prove useful if you later claim compensation.

Under EU flight delay law, passengers can also be entitled to compensation in some circumstances, if the delay was caused by something within the airline's control. Given any delays due to air traffic control issues and extreme weather are outside of airlines' control, it's unlikely you'll be able to claim any compensation for delays. See our Flight Delays guide for more information. 

What do Heathrow and Gatwick Airports say?

A Heathrow spokesperson said: "We are aware that NATS... is currently experiencing a technical issue with their systems that is affecting some airspace in the UK.

"Flights are currently arriving and departing at Heathrow, and we are supporting NATS to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. We apologise to passengers for any disruption that occurs as a result."

Gatwick Airport wrote on its Twitter account: "NATS currently has an issue with one of its radars and has put limits on the number of flights that can use Gatwick and other London airports."

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