Global flight fallout extends to second day from UK glitch

Updated Aug 29, 2023, 6:38am EDT
Travellers wait near the British Airways check-in area at Heathrow Airport, as Britain's National Air Traffic Service (NATS) restricts UK air traffic due to a technical issue causing delays, in London, Britain, August 28, 2023. REUTERS/Hollie Adams
REUTERS/Hollie Adams
Jenna Moon/

Flights into and out of the U.K. are facing a second day of severe delays, following a technical glitch that impacted air traffic control at some of the world’s major international airports. Flight plans had to be inputted manually, instead of via an automated system, affecting more than 500 flights on a public holiday, one of the U.K.‘s busiest travel days.

Heathrow is the busiest airport in Europe, and the fifth-busiest globally, according to data collected by travel analytics firm OAG.1 Flights heading into the west London airport connect to destinations around the globe. Historically, Heathrow has been the most-connected airport in the world, recording up to 65,000 connections in one six-hour window on its busiest day in 2019.2

One-off automation glitches can shut down entire industries. In Japan on Tuesday, a glitch at Toyota shuttered production at all 14 of its plants, affecting around one-third of the automaker's global production.3 In software and engineering outlet The New Stack, writer Richard Gall noted that automation can sometimes backfire, upending the industries it hoped to streamline. "Often, in the drive for efficiency, simplicity and speed we end up introducing unexpected complexity and new problems we hadn’t anticipated," he wrote.4

Similar glitches have grounded flights in the U.S. In January, a glitch within the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) air traffic control system meant that flights across the U.S. were temporarily grounded5 because pilots couldn't be alerted to potential hazards on their flight routes. Late last year, a system error at Southwest Airlines meant the airline lost track of where its staff were following a severe winter storm.6