British Airways Cancels All Flights from Gatwick, Heathrow Due to IT Failure
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - British Airways cancelled all flights from Heathrow and Gatwick on Saturday due to a major IT failure causing severe disruption to its global operations that is expected to run into Sunday.
The airline said its terminals at Heathrow and Gatwick became “extremely congested” due to the computer problems. It decided to cancel all flights from both airports before 6pm UK time on Saturday, and then extended this to include all the day’s remaining flights from the UK’s largest two airports.
BA said the delays could continue into Sunday, but most long-haul flights should be able to land as normal in London. A BA spokeswoman said: “We are working hard to get our customers who were due to fly today on to the next available flights over the course of the rest of the weekend. Those unable to fly will be offered a full refund.”
There were chaotic scenes at the London terminals on Saturday as people tried to make their way overseas for the long weekend and half-term school holiday, The Guardian reported.
BA initially cancelled all flights before 6pm but later announced that planes would be grounded for the rest of the day.
The computer crash affected BA’s booking system, baggage handling, mobile phone apps and check-in desks, leaving passengers facing long queues and confusion in airports or delays while planes were held on runways.
More than 1,000 flights were affected. At Heathrow alone, BA had 406 flights scheduled to depart after 9am and a further 71 at Gatwick, according to flightstats.com on Saturday.
“Following the major IT system failure experienced earlier today, with regret we have had to cancel all flights leaving from Heathrow and Gatwick for the rest of Saturday,” a spokeswoman said.
Experts believe passengers will be affected for several more days. Air industry consultant John Strickland said there was a “massive knock-on effect” because planes and crew were all in the wrong places.
Chief executive Alex Cruz said: “We are extremely sorry for the huge inconvenience this is causing our customers and we understand how frustrating this must be, especially for families hoping to get away on holiday.”
Travellers were told to check ba.com and the airline’s Twitter account for updates about the situation.
Trouble struck BA on Saturday morning, sometime before 9am, when travellers using automatic check-in machines and mobile phone apps reported being unable to access their flight details. BA staffs were reduced to using whiteboards to show flight details at Heathrow and lengthy queues formed at check-in desks and departure gates.
Some passengers, such as Henry Tail, 27, from London, missed their flights. “I checked in online using the BA app at 8.15 for my flight at 9.25, then went and had breakfast,” he said. “At some point, the app restarted and when I went to go through security, I couldn’t log in to my booking to get my QR code. This meant I couldn’t go through security and by the time I’d gone back and forth to various customer service desks, the flight had closed.”
By lunchtime BA had been forced to cancel all flights departing from Gatwick or Heathrow before 6pm and advised its customers not to travel to the airports. By 4.30pm the airline had cancelled flights for the rest of the day.
Given that the WannaCry ransom ware attack happened just two weeks ago, there was immediate speculation that BA’s IT systems had been hacked. But BA said: “We’ve found no evidence that it’s a cyber-attack.
The GMB union said the airline’s decision to outsource hundreds of IT jobs to India last year was behind the problems.
Some travellers complained that they had been left in the dark and not informed their flights had been cancelled until more than an hour after the airline put out a press statement.
Terry Page, 28, from London, said of the cancellations: “There’s no such announcement here. The boards are showing ‘go to gate’ and no mention of cancellations.” More than an hour later, he said cancellations of individual flights were still being announced.
Footage filmed at the terminal showed long queues at customer services after passengers were advised that they would be unable to rebook due to systems remaining down.
Student Emily Wilson said that she had been advised “we are unable to get bags, and that no more flights are taking off” several hours after arriving for a flight to Stockholm.
Wilson added: “We were told [it would be] about three hours for collecting bags, that all compensation will have to be done online and that we are unable to rebook flights now because of the system being down.”
She said that information on screens still suggested her flight could board shortly but that staff contradicted that information, saying there were “no slots left”.
Dan Power said he and his 80-year-old grandmother were stranded at Heathrow, waiting for a flight to Milan and have had no information from BA. He told BBC News they have been offered “absolutely nothing” in the way of refreshments. “We haven’t been offered any chairs, any water, any vouchers – nothing,” he said.
“I don’t think our week’s holiday will happen at this rate. My main concern now is I don’t want my 80-year-old grandmas spending the night on the Heathrow floor – but all the hotels are fully booked, we don’t have any transport back up north, so we are actually stuck in Heathrow with nowhere to go.”
Melissa Davis was held for more than an hour and a half on the tarmac at Heathrow, on board a BA flight returning from Belfast.
Speaking from the plane, Davis said the air conditioning had been off “so I don’t think we will be going anywhere any time soon” but added that the passengers had been kept informed by their pilot and given water while they remained seated.
She later said she and others were then told they could not transfer to other flights because “they can’t bring up our details”.
Travellers to the UK were also badly affected. Alma Saffari and her 13-month-old baby were trying to fly from Marseille to Heathrow. She told the BBC: “When we finally boarded, the captain came out and told us their computer systems were down worldwide. After sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a half, we disembarked.”
It came a day after passengers at Gatwick airport faced chaotic scenes and long queues due to a baggage system problem. Those taking flights on Friday were forced to travel without their hold bags and were asked to carry any essential items in their hand luggage.
Saturday’s disruption took place as some BA customers continued to criticize the airline’s customer services. It has adapted in order to compete with cheaper fares offered by easy Jet and other budget airlines.
The airline has abolished free meals on flights shorter than five hours. Instead passengers can now buy sandwiches and other food items. BA has said that passengers welcomed the choice but some question whether it is worth flying with the airline given that there is little to distinguish its service levels from those of no-frills rivals such as Ryan air.
BA offers cheaper fares for passengers with hand luggage only, mirroring the baggage charges imposed by budget carriers.
Passengers have some rights under EU law to claim compensation for delayed or cancelled flights for services that departed within the EU or were operated by a European airline.
Delays of more than three hours for short-haul flights (up to 1,500km or 930 miles) attract compensation of €250 (£218); while the figure is €400 for medium-haul trips (1,500km to 3,500km).
For long-haul flights (more than 3,500km), delays of between three and four hours have compensation set at €300; for delays of longer than four hours the figure is €600.
Airlines are required to give passengers food and drinks for delays of more than two hours, as well as hotel accommodation for overnight delays and transfers.