After Costly IT Collapse, British Airways Vows ‘Never Again’

Following a computer system failure that stranded 75,000 passengers over a holiday weekend and turned into a public relations disaster, British Airways (BA) said it would take steps to ensure there was no repeat of such incidents.

After a power supply problem disrupted its operations worldwide and also hit its call centers and website, BA had been forced to cancel all its flights from Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, and Gatwick on Saturday.

With only a handful of short-haul flights canceled and planning to run more than 95 percent of flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick, the airline was returning to normal.

A power surge on Saturday morning which hit BA’s flight, baggage and communication systems, was the root of the problem, which also affected passengers trying to fly into Britain, BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz said. It was so strong it also rendered the back-up systems ineffective, he said.

“Once the disruption is over, we will carry out an exhaustive investigation into what caused this incident, and take measures to ensure it never happens again,” Cruz said.

And images that played prominently online and in newspapers were of some stranded passengers curled up under blankets on the floor or slumped on luggage trolleys over the weekend.

“Apologizes all well and good but not enough. BA has lost another loyal customer #disgraceful,” tweeted Tom Callway, who had been due to fly to Budapest.

Both in terms of a one-off impact to its profit and the longer term damage to its reputation, the company was left counting the cost of the disruption.

After the outage there was a drop of 2.8 percent in the Spanish-listed shares of parent company IAG, which also owns carriers Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling.

BA was looking at having to pay around 61 million euros ($68 million) in compensation under EU rules with around 800 flights canceled at Gatwick and Heathrow on Saturday and Sunday, flight compensation website Flightright.com said. The cost of reimbursing customers for hotel stays would not be included in that.

Cruz said that its compensation obligations would be fully honored by BA. He added that around two-thirds would have been flown to their destinations by the end of Monday of the 75,000 passengers who missed out on flights.

BA recently faced criticism for starting to charge passengers for their in-flight snacks and has been cutting costs to respond to competition on short-haul routes from Ryanair and easyJet.

With a picture of the ‘Computer says no’ sketch from the TV series “Little Britain” to poke fun at BA, and tweeting “Should have flown Ryanair”, Ireland’s Ryanair was quick to seize on the marketing opportunity.

Without giving any details, Ryanair said it had seen a spike in bookings over the weekend.

After they made a number of staff redundant and shifted their work to India in 2016, BA’s IT systems had developed shortcomings, the GMB union said.

“This could have all been avoided. BA in 2016 made hundreds of dedicated and loyal IT staff redundant and outsourced the work to India,” Mick Rix, GMB National Officer for Aviation, said.

“They’ve all been local issues around a local data center, which has been managed and fixed by local resources,” he told Sky News.

While come of the passengers said their luggage had been lost, several complained about a lack of information from BA staff at the airport.

(Adapted from Reuters)

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