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Flight disruptions strand thousands in U.S. and UK

Travel plans on both sides of the Atlantic were snarled this week as looming Hurricane Idalia prompted airport closures and flight cancellations in the U.S., while computer glitches in the U.K.’s air traffic control system stranded thousands of travelers.

Tampa International Airport suspended all its commercial operations one minute into Tuesday as Idalia gathered hurricane force in the Gulf of Mexico and took aim at Florida.

Likewise, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport closed at 3 p.m. Tuesday, roughly two hours before the hurricane was upgraded to a Category 2 storm, with “life-threatening” surges expected Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

Other airports were monitoring the storm, with several airlines offering travel waivers to passengers booked for some parts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Southwest Airlines had canceled 144 flights, while about 460 delays in total were set to hit United, Delta and American Airlines, in addition to more than 200 cancellations, CNN reported. United tacked on additional flights from Orlando and Sarasota to enable people to leave.

In addition, Amtrak canceled trains and altered routes in the state as “a safety precaution for customers and employees.”

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Meanwhile, across the pond, an entirely different sort of chaos was unfolding. On Monday a computer glitch — not a cyberattack, officials emphasized — shut down automated flight-plan processing in the U.K., forcing the task to be done manually, which takes much longer and decreases the number of planes able to fly. The problem was caused by a “technical fault” at the National Air Traffic Services flight control center, U.K. Transport Secretary Mark Harper said Tuesday.

 Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will investigate. In this photo, passengers look at the departures board at Heathrow Airport in London on Aug. 28, 2023.

In all, 790 departures and 785 arrivals, 27% of each, were canceled across all U.K. airports on Monday, a late-summer holiday weekend in Britain. As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, 5% of flights both arriving to and departing the country had been canceled, BBC News reported.

Thousands of travelers were stranded, even after the problem was fixed, and the disruption was forecast to last for days as it rippled through the system. Passengers found themselves spending the night in an airport or shelling out for alternate travel plans.

Britain’s National Air Traffic Services agency apologized, while Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it will investigate.

“I would like to apologize again for our technical failure yesterday,” NATS CEO Martin Rolfe said in a statement Tuesday. “While we resolved the problem quickly, I am very conscious that the knock-on effects at such a busy time of year are still being felt by many people traveling in and out of the U.K. I would like to reassure everyone that since yesterday afternoon all of our systems have been running normally to support airline and airport operations as they recover from this incident.”

With News Wire Services

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