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
The Independent's Travel Correspondent Simon Calder has outlined how stranded Brits can get money back from airlines following the air traffic control failure.
Simon has clarified the difference between compensation and reimbursements. He said: “If your flight is cancelled, the airline has a strict obligation to deliver a duty of care."
'Very old' system failed
The air traffic control failure may have been caused by incorrect formatting that the "very old" system found it hard to cope with, one worker suggested.
Michele Robson, an air traffic control worker with around 20 years of experience, said in an interview with the Sky News Daily podcast: "It's a very old system, it's been running for many years and generally we've been very lucky and we don't often have failures, or if we do, we get it back during that backup time, which is what it's there for.
"There have been other instances where something has been incorrectly formatted and the flight plan computer behaves in a way they're not expecting and effectively causes it to a fail, so that could be enough to potentially crash the system in effect if it was formatted incorrectly.
"You have to space things in a certain way using a certain number of dots, as an example. They do it in a very unique way that's never been done before, otherwise it would happen every day.
"So it has to be something pretty unusual that they've input for it to happen, but it's an old system and perhaps something was input yesterday that it's never seen before and that's what caused it to have this reaction where it's failed."
The couple’s easyJet flight from Heraklion airport to Luton had been cancelled due to an air traffic control glitch.
Willie Walsh: Boss of airlines group says air traffic control firm NATS should pay for 'shocking' airport chaos
The boss of airline industry body IATA has blasted National Air Traffic Services (NATS) for the recent chaos at Britain's airports - and demanded the company foots the bill for the disruption.
Willie Walsh, the head of the International Air Transport Association, which represents more than 300 of the world's carriers, also questioned whether the firm should continue to hold responsibility for handling the UK's flight traffic.
Can I claim compensation for a cancelled flight? Heathrow, Bristol and more affected as easyJet & BA disrupted
Your rights explained - including if you can claim compensation - as multiple flights remain disrupted this week
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'