A British family are stuck in France until Sunday and must fly back from an airport hours away from where they were staying after the air traffic control failure.

Rory Dollard, 40, a cricket journalist at PA Media, said he and his wife Joanne, 40, and children Emily, 10, and Arthur, eight, of Skipton, North Yorkshire, were left waiting for five hours at Bergerac Dordogne Perigord Airport on Monday after their Ryanair flight could not take off.

After being sent to spend the night at a hotel in an industrial estate, they returned to the airport to find out about flights, but there were no staff around.

Mr Dollard said: “We hired a car at the airport and travelled to visit some friends and that’s how we’re spending the next few days.

“Six days, it’s remarkable really, I’ve been to the airport again today and the flights had restarted for Ryanair, but they were all full already so it wasn’t a case that we could book on to the next flight.

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“We’re having to wait for the next available route, which is a couple of hours’ drive away at a different airport, Limoges, on Sunday afternoon.

“It feels like there’s been a lack of information for passengers, really, I understand that there’s a lot of people affected across the continent, it feels like the weight of people affected has overloaded the system.

“We were told we would hear from somebody the following morning and we still haven’t heard from anyone and frankly we’re not expecting at this stage to hear from anyone at all, I guess we’ll be dealing with it once we get back to England.”

National Air Traffic Services (Nats) chief executive Martin Rolfe said the air traffic control failure was caused by “an unusual piece of data”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It wasn’t an entire system failure.

“It was a piece of the system, an important piece of the system.

“But in those circumstances, if we receive an unusual piece of data that we don’t recognise, it is critically important that that information – which could be erroneous – is not passed to air traffic controllers.”

Asked why the flight data that caused widespread cancellations was not rejected “like a piece of spam”, he said: “Our systems are safety-critical systems, they are dealing with the lives of passengers and the travelling public.

“So even things like just throwing data away needs to be very carefully considered.

“If you throw away a critical piece of data you may end up in the next 30 seconds, a minute or an hour with something that then is not right on the screens in front of the controller.

“So it is nothing like throwing away spam.”

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Rob Bishton, joint interim chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, said the “scale of the disruption” to airlines means “passengers have faced longer delays and in some cases are waiting several days for alternative flights”.

He said airlines have “a responsibility to look after” passengers waiting to come home, which includes providing them with meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation.

He told affected travellers: “If airlines cannot do this, you can organise your own meals and accommodation, then claim costs back."