‘Absolutely awful’: passengers on planes bound for Gatwick Airport stuck on runway for two hours unable to leave

Two flights headed for Gatwick Airport were at a standstill on the runway due to air traffic control staff shortages
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Passengers boarding a flight returning to Gatwick Airport were left on the runway for two hours and unable to leave the aircraft.

A man described the “absolutely awful” experience to NationalWorld, saying he was stuck on the plane with “no refreshments and no updates.”

The Tui flight was scheduled to take off from Zakynthos International Airport at 8.05pm on Sunday (26 September) and due at Gatwick Airport for 9:30pm.

The passenger told NationalWorld: “We all boarded with no issues to be then told by the Tui staff due to air control at Gatwick we would not be leaving for at least two hours.

“We were offered no refreshments and no updates. We landed at approximately 11.30pm when we were supposed to be there at 9.30pm.”

Passengers on plane bound for Gatwick Airport stuck on runway for two hours unable to leave. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images) Passengers on plane bound for Gatwick Airport stuck on runway for two hours unable to leave. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)
Passengers on plane bound for Gatwick Airport stuck on runway for two hours unable to leave. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

He added that Gatwick Airport “had no stairs ready” when the aircraft arrived “which resulted in us being stuck in the plane for even longer than necessary.”

The passenger said: “In all a three hour flight took well over five hours from boarding.

“Absolutely awful.”

Another passenger on a different flight coming back to Gatwick Airport shared on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that the aircraft she was on was also stuck on the runway for two hours  at Heraklion Airport in Greece.

Nicola Smith posted on X, on Sunday, that it was “shocking” and a “shambles”, adding that Gatwick Airport needs to “sort themselves out”.

She posted on X: “@Gatwick_Airport sort yourselves out! Going out and coming back to our holiday to Crete and both times loaded on to a packed plane to be sat on the tarmac for two hours each way!

“It’s shocking and a shambles! Heraklion Airport is being run better!!!”

London Gatwick responded to Ms Smith’s comments on the social media platform.

It said: “Hello Nicola. Due to short notice sickness in the Air Traffic Control tower including cases of Covid-19, temporary air traffic control restrictions were put in place yesterday. This has caused some delays and cancellations by some airlines.”

Air traffic control (Nats) staff shortages due to Covid have caused several flights to be cancelled or delayed over recent days.

Yesterday (Monday 25 September) Gatwick Airport announced it will be limiting the amount of flights this week due to 30% of Nats’ tower staff being unavailable due to medical reasons.

A daily 800-flight limit, affecting both departures and arrivals, has been imposed from Monday and will run until Sunday (1 October).

London Gatwick’s chief executive Stewart Wingate described the move as “a difficult decision”, but said it was needed to create “reliable flight programmes” amid ongoing work with Nats to “build resilience in the control tower”.

It means there will be about 29 fewer flights on Wednesday (27 September), 40 fewer on Thursday (28 September), 65 fewer on Friday (29 September) and 30 fewer on Sunday (20 September).

Nats said it is “very sorry” that staff being off ill “will have an almost immediate impact” on the airport.

The company said it has been “very clear that we inherited a staff shortage when we took over the contract last autumn” and it is “working to return the team to full strength”.

Nats confirmed it is working to a plan agreed with the London airport to “deliver further resilience ahead of summer 2024”.

NationalWorld has contacted Tui for comment.

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