Virgin Group boss Sir Richard Branson has warned that airlines will be on the hook for compensation payouts following the air traffic control failure that has left thousands of passengers stranded or delayed.
Speaking to Good Morning Britain on Wednesday, the billionaire said despite the failure coming from the National Air Traffic Services (Nats), airlines would have to take the payouts on the chin.
"I'm sure that airlines that have been affected... they will almost definitely have to pay compensation, and take it on the chin" he said. "But these things happen and hopefully Nats can learn from this and make sure they don't make the same mistake again."
His comments came as a flight expert has described the breakdown in the UK's air traffic control system as "staggering", after thousands of passengers were left stranded following a four-hour breakdown in the system on Monday.
Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), said the design of the system - which appeared to collapse after incorrect data was entered - was a "considerable weakness".
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “I find it staggering, I really do.
“This system should be designed to reject data that’s incorrect, not to collapse the system.
“If that is true, it demonstrates a considerable weakness that must have been there for some time and I’m amazed if that is the cause of this.
“Clearly we’ll wait for the full evaluation of the problem but that explanation doesn’t stand up from what I know of the system.”
We have paused live coverage of the travek chaos for the evening. For more updates click here
This was despite the number of flights still being below pre-pandemic levels
An air traffic control boss has confirmed it was "unreliable" flight data that caused the technical failure behind disruption to thousands of flights this week.
Martin Rolfe, chief executive of National Air Traffic Services, said an initial investigation found the collapse of the system was caused by flight data which its system did not understand and "couldn't interpret". When pilots submit their flight plans to air traffic control, they do so in code.
As fallout from the tech meltdown continues, we hear from some of those who have been left stranded
Kelly Hagerty says her family are unable to fly back to the UK until 9 September.
August is always fraught with potential travel glitches, but last weekend’s air traffic control failure took the word ‘glitch’ to new extremes – forcing the cancellation of 1,400 flights.
How long will the disruption last?
Transport secretary Mark Harper said the travel disruption will last for days, with flights continuing to be cancelled on Wednesday morning.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday: "The last time there was something this significant was about a decade ago, so these things do not happen frequently.
"It is going to take some days to get completely everybody back to where they should be."
Aviation analytics company Cirium said 790 departures and 785 arrivals were cancelled across all UK airports following the initial breakdown on Monday, a total of 1,575 (about 27% of planned flights).
At least 32 departures from Heathrow were cancelled on Tuesday, along with 31 arrivals. British Airways was the worst affected airline at the airport.
At least 23 departures and 51 arrivals were cancelled at Gatwick Airport on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, British Airways and easyJet were among those reporting cancellations on Wednesday morning as the chaos continued.
Can passengers get a refund?
Under UK law, if a flight is cancelled, the airline must let passengers choose between either a refund or an alternative flight, regardless of when the cancellation was made.
Passengers can get their money back for any part of the booking that was not used, so if they booked a return flight and the outbound journey was cancelled, they are entitled to the full cost of the return ticket.
If passengers still want to travel even if their flight is cancelled, their airline must find them an alternative flight. If another airline is flying sooner or other suitable modes of transport are available, they have the right to be booked on that instead.
If stuck abroad or at an airport because a flight is cancelled, airlines must provide a reasonable amount of food and drinks, usually in the form of vouchers, as well as free accommodation if passengers have to stay overnight to fly the next day.
If their airline cannot assist with this, passengers should make their own arrangements and keep their receipts to claim back the cost later.
Airlines are required to pay compensation if flights arrive more than three hours late, but only when it is their fault, meaning the air traffic control problems could fall under the definition of “exceptional circumstances”, meaning the carriers are exempt from paying out.
Air traffic control chaos: What are your rights if your flight is affected? (Sky News, 3 mins)
Watch: Air traffic control review ordered with disruption to 'last for days'