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BA under pressure to improve IT systems and communication after cancellations

British Airways cancelled a ‘significant’ number of flights from Heathrow.

26 February 2022

British Airways is coming under pressure to improve its IT systems and communication with passengers after cancelling flights due to technical issues.

The airline cancelled all short-haul flights from Heathrow until midday on Saturday, with the airport’s online departure board showing further BA cancelations throughout the day.

BA said the problem, which was also expected to cause potential delays for its customers using Gatwick and London City Airport, is related to a hardware issue and is not because of a cyber attack.

The major outage has caused cancellations and delays of flights, pile-ups of luggage and passengers stuck on planes after landing at Heathrow.

BA’s website and app were inaccessible for hours on Friday evening, preventing customers from checking in online or booking flights, while on Saturday passengers criticised the “absolute chaos” at Heathrow.

Dr Penny Slaney, 62, a consultant radiologist from Worcestershire, told the PA news agency that the lack of communication from BA has been “appalling”, while people complained on social media about a lack of information.

Simon Calder, travel correspondent at The Independent, is in Qatar and is due to fly home overnight with BA.

He said: “British Airways, along with every other UK airline, invests a huge amount in safety and has an outstanding safety record.

“But with yet another weekend’s flying severely damaged by what BA calls ‘systems disruption’, the airline evidently has a pressing need to invest in IT.

“At a time when British Airways is still losing money at a prodigious rate, it can hardly afford to pay out tens of millions of pounds in recompense for its technical shortcomings. But that is exactly what the airline faces.

BA short-haul flights cancelled
A check-in information board at Heathrow Airport T5 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“Longer term, the reputational damage is rising with every cancellation. I calculate 1,500 passengers got up very early this morning to fly on British Airways from Heathrow to Geneva – and the same number waiting at the Swiss airport to come home.

“As with the thousands who have lost trips to Italy, the Canary Islands and beyond, they are unlikely to forget this weekend in a hurry.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said ongoing technical issues “don’t fill consumers with much confidence”, adding: “BA needs to be transparent on what’s causing these issues and how soon they will be fixed.”

Meanwhile, Which? consumer law expert Lisa Webb said BA should offer customers the option of another route, with another airline where necessary, if their flight has been cancelled.

She said: “This is not the first time that BA has experienced technical issues, causing the postponement of flights and leaving passengers to pay the price.

“In events such as these, airlines should be offering the option of a refund or to reroute passengers on any reasonable route as quickly as possible, using other airlines where necessary.”

BA short-haul flights cancelled
A member of staff manually checks passenger boarding passes at the entrance of Terminal 5 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Ms Webb said BA must also give clear information to affected customers about their entitlement to compensation.

It is BA’s second outage in 10 days and the latest of several high-profile IT incidents to hit the airline.

Last summer, BA settled a legal claim over a major data breach that affected 420,000 customers and staff.

The breach in 2018 included the leaking of names, addresses and card payment details and led to the Information Commissioner’s Office handing out a fine of £20 million.

On July 18 2018, computer problems hit BA operations at Heathrow and the airline cancelled a number of short-haul flights after the incident involving a “supplier IT system”.

In May 2017, 75,000 bank holiday travellers were stranded after a glitch forced the airline to cancel nearly 726 flights over three days.

The outage was suspected to have been caused by human error after an engineer disconnected and then reconnected a power supply to the data centre in an “uncontrolled and uncommanded fashion”.

The meltdown was blamed by some on aggressive cost-cutting and outsourcing of jobs.

BA said customers due to travel on Saturday should check ba.com before going to the airport, adding: “We are extremely sorry that due to the continuing technical issues we are facing we have regrettably had to cancel a significant number of short-haul flights from Heathrow today.”

The airline said its long-haul services at Heathrow and all flights at Gatwick and London City Airport are due to operate as planned, but that customers “may experience some delays”.

BA said it is offering customers on cancelled services the option of a refund or to rebook on to another service, adding: “We know we have let our customers down and we will do everything we can to make this up to them – but for now our focus is on getting as many customers and flights away as we can.”

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