Once again, British Airways’ operation at Heathrow is in disarray due to an IT glitch. The Independent calculates that more than 200 flights, mainly domestic and European, were canceled between Thursday, May 25th and Saturday, May 27th, as a result of the systems failure.
Many flights were also delayed for many hours.
The number of passengers directly affected by cancellations is likely to be around 30,000 – with many more seriously delayed and/or missed connections.
Passengers whose trips are canceled are entitled to accommodation, meals and monetary compensation.
What went wrong?
“A technical matter,” according to a British Airways spokesman. 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 controlled manually, much depends on the computers communicating with each other and with the outside world.
Some IT specialists suggest that BA is vulnerable, as many large organizations have systems in which cutting-edge technology coexists with “legacy” elements and processes that are almost prehistoric in computing terms.
How bad is it?
Not as dire as the 2017 IT meltdown on the same bank holiday weekend. On that occasion, during a routine systems update, a switch was thrown that paralyzed the entire operation of British Airways Heathrow: hundreds of thousands of passengers had their travel plans cancelled.
This time, British Airways says: “Most of our flights continue to operate as planned”.
The statement adds: “Regretfully, we have had to cancel some services at Heathrow.
“We apologize to customers whose flights were affected and offer them the option to rebook to an alternative flight with us or another carrier or request a refund.”
Which flights were cancelled?
When British Airways is forced to ground large numbers of flights, it usually targets high-frequency routes: Edinburgh, Milan and Geneva top BA’s cancellation table.
Of a total of 23 flights each way between the Scottish capital and Heathrow on Thursday and Friday, 43% were grounded.
One of the departing flights was so late that it took off from Heathrow on the wrong day. BA1440 was due to launch at 9:15 pm on Thursday, but ended up taking off shortly after midnight on Friday, arriving in Edinburgh at 1 am.
Milan also had 10 cancellations, but split between Linate (six) and Malpensa (four).
To Geneva, eight of the 23 scheduled flights were suspended – 31% of the total.
Three airports had six cancellations each: Belfast City, Nice and Paris CDG.
However, some holiday flights with limited alternatives were also hit. One of three flights from Heathrow to Faro in the Portuguese Algarve and one of four to Malaga on Spain’s Costa del Sol were canceled on Friday.
Many of the cancellations are to and from destinations with multiple frequencies, such as Dublin, Hamburg and Paris CDG, or serving domestic airports such as Manchester and Edinburgh, where rail alternatives are available.
My flight was cancelled. What are my rights?
You can simply cancel and get a refund, but most people will still 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 time as possible. If British Airways is unable to find you a seat on the same day, you will need to look 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 a severe disruption, many passengers will defend themselves and then claim back later.
- Cash compensation, which varies between £220 and £520 per person, depending on the length of the flight.
How is compensation calculated?
It is complicated. For a direct cancellation less than two weeks in advance and no alternative flight offered, the rates are:
- Less than 1,500km: £220
- 1,500-3,500km, £350
- Over 3,500km, £520
In many cases, however, British Airways will provide a replacement flight.
If the alternative “allows you to depart no more than one hour before the scheduled departure time and arrive at your final destination less than two hours after the scheduled arrival time”, there will be no compensation.
If you arrive between two and three hours late for a flight of 1,500 to 3,500 km, or between two and four hours late for longer flights, your cash compensation will be halved.
How do I claim?
The British Airways website doesn’t make this particularly easy or obvious, but this link should take you to the right portal, where you can also claim related expenses, such as hotels that BA didn’t book for you.
Due to the large number of affected passengers, payments will likely take months rather than weeks.
My flight wasn’t cancelled, but I missed my connection and ended up being several hours late. Do I still get compensation?
Yes. If you arrive at your final destination at least three hours late, you will receive the same cancellation payment (except for long haul flights that are between three and four hours late, for which the payment is halved to £260) .
How much damage will this do to British Airways?
The financial hit will amount to millions of pounds: lost revenue from passengers who simply cancel their journeys; accommodation and meal costs for customers who have to wait for onward flights; and compensation under European air passenger rights rules.
The damage to BA’s reputation is considerable; the timing, at the start of part-time for many schools, is especially unfortunate, with some families having invested thousands of pounds in holidays that are now at risk.
But because BA has the most 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 the latest failure.