Home / Companies / London flight chaos lingers as British Airways revives computers

London: British Airways said many of its computer systems are running again as the carrier pushed to recover from a massive technology failure that disrupted hundreds of flights and stranded thousands of passengers worldwide over the past two days.

“All my British Airways colleagues on the ground or in the air are pulling out all the stops to get our operation back up to normal as quickly as we possibly can," chief executive officer Alex Cruz said Sunday in a video message from the airline’s operations center near London’s Heathrow airport. “We are not there yet. But we are doing our very best to sort things out for you."

A total of 115 British Airways flights, or 13 percent of services, were cancelled on Sunday while 311 services, or 35 percent, were delayed, according to Flight Aware, a Houston-based plane-tracking service. The carrier scrapped a combined 418 flights at Heathrow and Gatwick airport, south of London, on Saturday and 568 were delayed, the research company said. British Airways has declined to specify figures for flights or customers affected.

The airline plans to fly all its long-haul departures scheduled at Heathrow, but the after-effects of Saturday’s disruption will lead to delays, Cruz said. Services from Gatwick were operating “near-normal" though subject to postponements, the airline said.

“I know this has been a horrible time for customers" who have missed holiday travel and been stranded on planes, separated from luggage and stuck in lines while seeking information, Cruz said. “On behalf of everyone at British Airways, I want to apologise for the fact that you’ve had to go through these very trying experiences."

British Airways cancelled all Saturday afternoon and evening departures from Heathrow and Gatwick following what it called a “very severe disruption" worldwide to computer systems handling check-in, baggage sorting and reservations. The disruption coincides with the start of the annual end-of-May Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, as well as the three-day Memorial Day weekend regarded as the unofficial start of summer in the US.

The breakdown, which also affected call centres, prevented passengers from rebooking or from retrieving luggage that had already been loaded onto their planes, and some travellers reported having to wait on grounded aircraft for several hours before they could go back into the terminals. They and passengers who were waiting at gates were eventually ordered to leave the airports, and faced massive lines at passport desks before they could re-enter the UK.

Cruz said Saturday that British Airways believed the cause of the computer disruption was a power supply issue and that there was “no evidence of any cyber attack." The airline said it will return the “significant" number of bags stranded at Heathrow to customers via courier, free of charge, as soon as possible.

British Airways urged passengers without rebooked flights on Sunday to stay home and check the carrier’s website for status updates before proceeding to airports. Due to heavy congestion at Heathrow, passengers aren’t being allowed inside terminals until 90 minutes before scheduled departure times, Cruz said.

Customers who were sent away from Heathrow and Gatwick on Saturday were told to find hotels on their own for reimbursement later by British Airways. Payments will include £200 ($260) per night for lodging, £50 round trip between the airport and the hotel, and as much as £25 for refreshments, according to leaflets from the company.

£2,500 rooms

Hotels surrounding the airports were charging as much as £1,000 to £2,500 for rooms for a night, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

The airline said it will seek to rebook customers “over the course of the rest of the weekend," or offer full refunds if a passenger is unable to fly. Customers with reservations for flights on 29 and 30 May who no longer wish to travel are able to re-book to the end of November, the carrier said on its website.

“Considering the reimbursements for cancelled flights and the costs of lodging stranded passengers, this will have an impact on revenue and the magnitude of the cost will depend on how long the outage lasts and how long it takes to resolve," said John Strickland, director of aviation at analysts JLS Consulting.

Last September, a computer network failure brought down British Airways’ check-in system, causing worldwide service delays, while earlier this month, London Gatwick airport reported problems with its baggage-sorting system.

British Airways is a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA. No widespread delays were reported at the company’s Spanish division, Iberia, or at its Irish brand Aer Lingus. Bloomberg

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