AN ULSTER businessman caught up in an air traffic control glitch told how a routine one-day trip turned into a nightmare.
Michael Hession (36), from Belfast, was forced to spend Saturday night in London after his flight to Belfast was cancelled amid travel chaos.
The problem – which began on Saturday after the National Air Traffic Control Service's (Nats) internal phone system broke down – was resolved that evening. But some travellers still faced disruption yesterday.
Father-of-three Mr Hession, a manager at a distribution firm, said: "A one-hour flight turned into a 36-hour excursion and that wasn't ideal," he said.
"We were powerless to do anything about it because so many airports were affected, including Dublin, so we had no option but to stay there.
"My kids were being looked after by grandparents and apart from the sitting about it wasn't the worst experience I've ever had – but I have to say I was relieved to get home."
Mr Hession travelled to London from Belfast City Airport on Friday morning with a colleague and both of them were due to return on Saturday evening.
"We were on the motorway travelling to Heathrow on Saturday morning and started to hear news reports that all wasn't well," he said. After learning that the system was down, Mr Hession said they made arrangements to stay overnight in a nearby hotel.
"It was inconvenient, but we know we're getting compensation for the money we had to spend."
Yesterday, Heathrow reported 18 cancellations, while Gatwick and Stanstead operated smoothly all day. Airports affected on Saturday include Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds Bradford, Doncaster, Belfast International, Dublin and Newcastle.
Problems arose when Nats' night-time operating system did not properly switch over to the daytime system, causing a communications problem with the centre's internal telephones. It was stressed that safety was not at risk at any time. Heathrow was the worst affected, with 228 cancellations yesterday, representing 15% of its usual daily total of 1,300 flights.