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Air Traffic Control Flight Cancellations: What’s Behind This?

Air Traffic Control Flight Cancellations: What’s Behind This?

Joanna Teljeur
Written By Joanna Teljeur
Last Updated: May 09, 2024

In August 2023, The Times reported that a problem with UK air traffic control led to over 2,000 cancelled flights and “more than 1,500 flights to and from the UK [were] grounded and many more delayed. It also affected flights over UK airspace”.

While this particular situation is extremely rare, air traffic control issues do lead to plenty of flight cancellations each year. But what’s behind this, and what are your rights when it affects your travel plans? Keep reading, because we’re going to walk you through the facts behind air traffic related flight cancellations.

The Responsibilities of Air Traffic Control (ATC)

ATC has the enormous responsibility of making sure aircraft are safe on the ground and in the sky. While ground-based, the men and women who work in ATC have a particular area of airspace that they are responsible for supervising.

ATC responsibilities include:

  • Managing the flow of planes arriving and departing
  • Giving information and support to pilots
  • Preventing accidents
  • Keeping track of planes within their given airspace

In order to keep us safe, air traffic control enforces rules to keep planes a certain distance apart from each other to prevent collisions. During peak travel times, airspace can become so congested that ATC must make certain safety decisions that unfortunately lead to delays and cancellations.

But it’s important to point out that while they do make decisions that affect flight cancellations, air traffic control does not cancel flights.

Air Traffic Control flights cancelled

How Air Traffic Control Affects Cancelled Flights

Since the pandemic, air travel has been growing faster than ever before. Because of this, ATC has been faced with imposing more restrictions to accommodate the growing demand on airspace, especially during peak travel times. Remember, their main objective is to keep everyone safe.

When something like severe weather causes flights to be delayed, it leads to a domino effect at the airport as departure time slots get more and more crowded. When this happens, ATC may ask an airline to cancel a flight.

Additionally, the sheer number of people travelling in recent years combined with more and more restrictions and regulations have led to airports struggling to keep up with the demand. The result: more delays and cancellations.

Had a Delayed or Canceled Flight to or from the EU?

Compensation for Flights Cancelled Because of ATC

Air traffic control is overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK, Eurocontrol in Europe, the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States, and Transport Canada Civil Aviation in Canada.

Each of these organisations are independent of airlines, but because they are integral to the safety of passengers, their recommendations must be taken seriously. Because of this, a flight cancelled because of ATC recommendation is considered outside the airline’s control - also known as extraordinary circumstancesand is usually not eligible for compensation.

Your Rights When Your Flight is Cancelled

Even though you may not be eligible for financial compensation, if your flight is cancelled as a result of ATC problems, you still have a right to a full refund if you decide not to travel. You are also entitled to rebooking at no extra charge with your current airline or a different one.

If you’re travelling in the UK, EU, or Canada, airlines are also required to provide you with care if you’re affected by a flight cancellation. Even in the US, where airlines are not required to provide care, some airlines may still offer food and refreshments to passengers as a good deed gesture.

In the UK, EU, and Canada, you can expect to be given:

  • Vouchers for meals and refreshment or even hotel accommodation if your rebooked flight won’t depart until the following day
  • Transportation to and from the hotel
  • Communication including emails and phone calls

You can learn more about your air passenger rights in each region in the links below.

Where to Find Help

If your flight is cancelled, you may be eligible for compensation. While you might not be likely to get compensated for flights cancelled by ATC, you could be eligible for cancellations caused by other issues.

Have you had a flight cancellation in the last 3 years? Did you know you can still file a compensation claim? You could get up to €600 in airline compensation! Enter your flight inflammation below to see if you’re eligible.

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