Over 1, 200 British Airways flights were cancelled from two of its major hubs in Heathrow and Gatwick Airports on Saturday, due to a major IT failure that is causing very severe disruption to its global operations. Compensation for affected travellers could run into several million pounds.
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.
Travellers to the UK were also badly affected. Juliana Adewoyin Alma and her two-year-old baby were trying to fly from Lagos to Heathrow when she was told at the Lagos airport that Lagos-London flight had been cancelled. She said she did not know as she was yet to receive any notification. 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. Country Commercial Manager for BA (Nigeria and West Africa), Mr. Kola Olayinka, told Sunday Telegraph on phone that Lagos flight expected to depart at 11.40pm had been cancelled as plane could not leave London because of the problem. Olayinka disclosed that the Abuja flight departed shortly before the glitch. Except the problem is urgently resolved, Abuja flight from London could also be affected.
The airline said that its terminals at Heathrow and Gatwick had become “extremely congested” due to the computer problems. It decided to cancel all flights from both airports before 6pm UK time on Saturday. “Please do not come to the airports,” BA said.
A later statement said the airline had been forced to cancel all remaining flights scheduled to depart from the UK’s largest two airports on Saturday. 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 1,200 flights have been 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. “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. The system outage has also affected our call centres and our website but we will update customers as soon as we are able to.” The airline said delays and disruption could continue into Sunday, adding that “most long-haul flights due to land in London tomorrow are expected to arrive as usual”.
The spokeswoman said: “We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience this is causing our customers during this busy holiday period.” Travellers have been told to check ba.com and its Twitter account for updates about the situation.
The IT failure has struck on one of the busiest travelling days of the year in the UK, coinciding with the start of a bank holiday weekend and the half-term break for some schools. 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 staff were reduced to using whiteboards to show flight details at Heathrow and lengthy queues formed at check-in desks and departure gates. 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. The cause of the system failure was not clear. BA said: “We have experienced a major IT system failure. We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience to our customers and we are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.” Other 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.