British Airways cancels 110 Heathrow flights in latest IT collapse: what are your rights?
Once again British Airways’ Heathrow operation is in disarray due to an IT failure. The Independent calculates that at least 110 flights, mainly domestic and European, have been cancelled on Thursday and Friday as BA struggles to operate without essential systems.
With many planes fully booked at the start of the bank holiday weekend, the number of passengers affected is likely to top 15,000 – with many more seriously delayed and/or encountering missed connections.
Fifty-five outbound short-haul flights were grounded on Thursday afternoon and evening, with 21 inbound trips also grounded on Thursday.
Friday morning sees 34 inbound flights cancelled, with the prospect of more delays and cancellations as British Airways recovers its operation.
Passengers whose trips are cancelled are entitled to accommodation, meals and cash compensation – though they may need to insist on their rights.
What went wrong?
“A technical issue,” according to a British Airways spokesperson. It is believed to involve the internal IT system that handles everything from passenger data to aircraft dispatch.
While some parts of the airline’s operation can be handled manually, so much depends on computers communicating with each other and the outside world.
Some IT specialists suggest that BA is vulnerable, like many big organisations, has systems in which cutting-edge technology coexists alongside “legacy” elements and processes that are almost prehistoric in computing terms.
How bad is it?
Not as dreadful as the 2017 IT meltdown over the same bank holiday weekend. On that occasion, during a routine systems upgrade, a switch was thrown that brought the entire British Airways Heathrow operation to a standstill: hundreds of thousands of passengers had their travel plans torn up.
This time, British Airways says: “The majority of our flights continue to operate as planned.”
The statement adds: “We’ve regrettably had to cancel some services at Heathrow.
“We’ve apologised to customers whose flights have been affected and offered them the option to rebook to an alternative flight with us or another carrier or request a refund.”
Many of the cancellations are to and from destinations with multiple frequencies, such as Dublin, Hamburg and Paris CDG, or serve domestic airports such a Manchester and Edinburgh where rail alternatives are available.
My flight has been cancelled. What are my rights?
You could just cancel and get a refund, but most people will want to travel despite the cancellation. There are three elements to BA’s obligation to you:
- A flight as soon as possible on any airline (or train) that can get you to your destination as close to the original schedule as possible. If British Airways is unable to find a seat on the same day, then it must search for a flight on a different airline.
- Meals and, if necessary, hotel accommodation as appropriate until you are on your way. British Airways is supposed to provide this care, but in practice during severe disruption many passengers fend for themselves and then claim back later.
- Cash compensation, which ranges between £220 and £520 per person, depending on the length of the flight. Under 1,500km: £220; 1,500-3,500km, £350; above 3,500km, £520. Because of the sheer number of passengers affected, payments are likely to take months rather than weeks.
My flight wasn’t cancelled but I missed my connection and ended up many hours late. Do I still get compensation?
Yes. If you arrive at your final destination at least three hours late, you get the same payment as for a cancellation (except for long-haul flights between three and four hours late, for which the payment is £260).
How much damage will this cause to British Airways?
The financial hit will run into millions of pounds: lost revenue from passengers who simply cancel their trips; costs of accommodation and meals for customers who have to wait for onward flights; and compensation under European air passengers’ rights rules.
The reputational damage to BA is considerable; the timing, at the start of half-term for many schools, is especially unfortunate, with some families having invested thousands of pounds in holidays which are now at risk.
But as BA has the majority of slots at Heathrow, the world’s most desirable international airport, it retains a huge structural advantage over other airlines, and is likely to continue to prosper despite this latest failure.