British Airways scrambles to restore services

Passengers waiting at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 yesterday. Thousands were stranded after hundreds of BA flights at Heathrow and Gatwick were affected by the IT outage.
Passengers waiting at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 yesterday. Thousands were stranded after hundreds of BA flights at Heathrow and Gatwick were affected by the IT outage.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • British Airways (BA) resumed some flights from Britain's two biggest airports yesterday as it struggled to return to normal service after a massive computer system failure paralysed operations, leaving planes grounded and thousands of passengers stranded.

A total of 95 BA flights, or 10 per cent of services, were cancelled by midday yesterday, while 210 flights, or 24 per cent, were delayed, according to Flight Aware. The Houston- based airline tracking service also said 418 flights at Heathrow and Gatwick, London's second-busiest airport, were cancelled and 568 delayed on Saturday.

Passengers without rebooked flights were urged to stay home yesterday and check the carrier's website for status updates. Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, also told passengers not to travel to the airport unless they were rebooked on other flights.

BA said it aimed to operate the majority of services from Heathrow yesterday and a near-normal schedule from Gatwick.

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"We are continuing to work hard to restore all of our IT systems," BA added in a statement. "We are extremely sorry for the huge disruption caused to customers."

BA cancelled all its flights from Heathrow and Gatwick after a power supply problem disrupted its flight operations worldwide and also hit its call centres and website on Saturday, which coincided with the start of a three-day bank holiday weekend. Today is a public holiday in Britain, and many children were starting a one-week school holiday.

 

Mr Alex Cruz, chairman and chief executive of BA, part of Europe's largest airline group IAG, said there was no evidence of a cyber attack.

While BA could face a one-off financial hit from the cancellations, the risk to its reputation among customers could be more damaging in the long run.

It is already facing declining customer ratings following unpopular decisions made as it faces competition from low-cost airlines. These include starting to charge for food on short-haul flights last year.

Confusion at the airports led many passengers to express their frustration on Twitter over missing luggage and long waits to speak to BA staff.

"We are refunding or rebooking customers who suffered cancellations on to new services as quickly as possible," BA said, adding that it had introduced more flexible rebooking policies for affected passengers.

Meanwhile, hotels located near the airports were reportedly charging £1,000 (S$1,800) to £2,500 for rooms for a night, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

In Singapore, one BA flight to London was affected and delayed for more than six hours, the airline said yesterday. Flight BA16 departed Singapore at 5.09am yesterday instead of at 10.35pm on Saturday.

A spokesman for BA told The Straits Times that meals were provided to all passengers on board during the delay.

The spokesman added: "We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience this is causing our customers during this busy period."

While other airlines have been hit by computer problems, the scale and length of BA's troubles were unusual.

Last August, hundreds of Delta Air Lines flights were cancelled and many others were delayed after an outage hit the airline's computer systems. Last month, Germany's Lufthansa and Air France also suffered a global system outage which briefly prevented them from boarding passengers.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

• Additional reporting by Kok Xing Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'British Airways scrambles to restore services'. Print Edition | Subscribe