An inopportune illness led an Australian air traffic controller to call in sick – soon the resulting staff shortage over a busy back-to-school travel period caused a cascade effect which led to the cancellation of more than 25 flights and delays that spread across the region leaving thousands of air travelers without a way home from break.
A single Sydney Airport (SYD) air traffic controller’s unexpected sick day wreaked havoc on air travel across the region over the busy back-to-school travel period on Sunday. Officials say that as many as 26 flights were cancelled outright with many more delayed as a result of the resulting staff shortage.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the under-the-weather controller’s absence caused ATC to place restrictions on the rate of takeoffs and landings at Australia’s busiest airport. Because a number of airlines had already added additional departures for the busy travel day, the delays and cancellations quickly mounted until the control tower was again staffed at full manpower later in the day. Qantas, JetStar, Virgin Australia and Tiger Air all reported canceled flights scheduled to depart from SYD on Sunday.
Qantas, which accounts for the majority of flights at SYD, told the newspaper that it was doing everything in its power to “get customers moving, but the reduced take off and landing rates meant we’ve had to cancel some flights. Some customers were moved to flights on Sunday evening but as it’s school holidays we have limited spare seats so others won’t travel until Monday.”
An airline spokesperson said that by Sunday afternoon operations at the airline’s primary hub had returned to normal. Unfortunately, by then, the damage had already been done with flight restrictions at SYD causing delays and cancellations at smaller airports across the region, leaving many thousands of passengers tardy in reporting to the first day of classes on Monday.
There is still no word on the nature of the illness that caused the controller to take the day off, but it seems likely that a doctor’s note excusing the absence might just be in order.