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Your views: British Airways’ response to its IT failure

British Airways

Thousands of BA passengers were grounded following a computer system failure in May. In the aftermath, we asked you ‘should BA offer its passengers automatic compensation?’ Here’s what you said.

In just three days we received over 100 comments on our convo and nearly 5,000 people voted in our poll. A huge 97% said they think BA should offer automatic compensation for delayed and cancelled flights.

More striking than these statistics however were the numerous accounts of poor customer service customers have experienced with BA and the differing views on automatic compensation.

Communication breakdown

Alison, a former BA employee, touched on the one immediate frustration many caught at Heathrow and Gatwick suffered; a lack of updates from BA as the situation unfolded:

‘I know from personal experience that one of the worst things you can do to passengers is not tell them what is happening. Being kept informed and up-to-date is so very important, particularly if you are meeting other people at the end of your journey, who may be greatly inconvenienced by any delay in your travel arrangements.’

Other travellers have reportedly complained of waiting more than an hour after the story broke in the press being being informed their flights had been cancelled.

Reputational turbulence

Another supporter, Charlie, wasn’t directly affected but feels the whole debacle may affect who they fly with in the future:

‘I have a trip abroad planned soon and was planning to book flights with BA. One reason I had chosen BA (rather than one of the budget airlines) is because I thought I’d receive good customer service and support in the event of anything going wrong. I’m not sure now it is worth the extra cost of BA after reading about how badly passengers have been treated following this fiasco.’

Unsurprisingly perhaps, this sentiment was echoed a number of times on Conversation with another supporter making the point to BA that it is difficult to be everything to everyone and imparting advice to ‘be quality, charge a premium’.

Automatic compensation

Touching on compensation Jill believes being fully compensated won’t be enough for BA to make good with some of their customers

‘British Airways got it very wrong and now they are adding insult to injury by making it difficult for their customers to claim what is rightfully theirs in the way of compensation. Even if their customers break even, money wise, it does nothing to erase the terrible disappointment of families being robbed of their holiday. Come on BA do the right thing and go some way to earning back the good will and respect of your customers.’

Iain echoed that line of thought adding that ministers should make automatic compensation a primary focus of the next Parliament:

‘After the fiasco (which ruined the holidays of many families) the very least BA should be doing is to issue full refunds and supplement that by giving free tickets for a future flight. Of course it should be automatic. And if legislation is needed to force them to do that, then it should be made a priority in the new Parliament.’

Over the weekend we published an open letter to BA calling on them to auto-compensate the passengers who fell victim to the airline’s IT error. Is there anything else you think British Airways should be doing to help their customers in this situation?

Eric Dee says:
7 June 2017

There really is no excuse !! With systems as important as these, surely there should be at least two backup systems, if not three, and multiple power failure and surge protections !!?? Most fortunate all round that no air accident did arise as a result of their incompetence.

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I’m not sure that’s quite right, Duncan. It appears an Uninterruptible Power Supply to a core data centre at Heathrow was over-ridden on Saturday morning. This resulted in the total immediate loss of power to the facility, bypassing the backup generators and batteries. This in turn meant that the controlled contingency migration to other facilities could not be applied. After a few minutes of this shutdown of power, it was turned back on in an unplanned and uncontrolled fashion, which created physical damage to the system, and significantly exacerbated the problem.

In effect, someone might have panicked and turned the system on in such a way that both the back up generator and the UPS were supplying power in series, so the system was – literally – fried.

The Register had picked this up almost as soon as it had happened, although I’m surprised a massively-system critical contingency allowed for such a basic error. Very strange.

Courtesy the Register

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The info above was from Bill Francis, Head of Group IT at BA’s owner International Airlines Group (IAG), in a leaked email to the press. There’s plenty more about this in the Reg, and from the outset they’ve been fingering a mistake by someone, which does seem to have been confirmed by BA themselves.

Warships that don’t have enough enough electrical capacity to feed all their systems when it matters? How does that compare?

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John Langridge says:
8 June 2017

Treat your customers fairly instead of with contempt!
You have a very long way to go to restore the reputation of an airline that was once considered to be the best!
On this issue and many others!

Debbie ralph smith says:
8 June 2017

BA haven’t been the ‘best’ for many years now. The middle eastern and south East Asian airlines all ratr much more highly than BA…and I can vouch for that! Plus the fact you don’t have to worry about them going on strike, which BA have a habit of doing!

HEAR, HEAR … and over many years.
The senior officers in such Big Corps have no direct contact with paying customers and thus no longer have an understanding (or care for) the adage that without customers, there is no business … just like self-centred politicians who see voters as plebs … except for a few weeks before each election.

Colin Amos says:
8 June 2017

It seems evident to me that BA, along with many other companies these days, do not seem to value their customers as the source of their income but treat them as a necessary evil in the quest for making increased profits. Metrics govern behaviour I believe and if you measure management and staff in monetary terms customer service will go out the window. Make customer satisfaction the primary metric and I believe all other factors will fall into place. This goes for shareholders too who could well be the cause of the problem.

I have just returned from a visit to Vancouver overlapping this incident and was relieved that the flight went to plan. However the customer service for those of us in mere economy class was, let’s say, less than satisfactory and the quality of the meals was appalling. I’ll be looking elsewhere for my next trip!

Trouble is…. increased or larger compensation equals proportionately higher fares.

Think about it…. you have 60% no claims bonus on your car… you have a crash the premium goes up – simple.

Yes – the compensation culture simply leads to increased costs for consumers and breeds anally-retentive, risk averse suppliers who point-blank refuse to acknowledge any problem could possibly exist. This benefits no one except the already over-paid lawyers

When an incident – for any cause – results in long delays for passengers, the airlines need to be far more pro-active in dealing with the situation. This isn’t rocket science – delays happen frequently for various reasons and the ensuing bad feeling could easily be avoided if airlines had in place an emergency procedure which clicks into place – to have plenty of well-briefed staff visible, to keep people informed, to provide alternative flights, to provide refreshment, to book accommodation and transport to that accommodation and finally, to automatically provide compensation.

They need to improve food and leg room


Haywood says:
8 June 2017

My flight was not delayed, but the service received from BA was not what we expected. I flew from London Heathrow to Moscow, it was almost a 4 hour flight and all we were served was a dry egg roll with no alternative. On my return trip from St.Petersburg to London Heathrow we were served nothing. I will add that we did have an opportunity to purchase a snack, but we were not told what was available. Having learnt from our outbound flight we ate before boarding our return flight. We were very fortunate, our flights were on time and our luggage reached us with no problems. We flew out on 17th May and returned on 31st May. It is a sign of our time, poor service and no redress.

Jean Marson-Bayat says:
8 June 2017

Last year I flew with a European airline whose afternoon connecting flights had been cancelled due to bad weather (Note: not the airline’s fault!) but while on the plane we were all fully informed what was happening. When we landed, without delay all passengers were given courtesy packs containing everything needed for an unexpected overnight stay, then driven to a hotel, where we had an evening meal and next morning breakfast was provided, too, before the coach came to take us back to the airport to link up with our postponed flights … all done smoothly and efficiently, no complaints or other sort of action needed by us, while all questions were answered promptly and courteously by the airline’s staff. Surely BA should be treating its passengers at least as well as that, particularly those with children, whose half-term holidays were ruined because of difficulties caused by some problem within BA’s own organisation?

Gerry says:
9 June 2017

Well, tell us the name of this wonderful airline so that we can switch to it from BA !

I was once stranded at a foreign airport in the middle of the night due to a cancelled flight by a foreign airline. I was a teenage girl & didn’t speak the language of the country in which I was stranded. Nobody from the airline checked I was alright, safe or had accommodation, I didn’t. But I did attract frightening amounts of male attention from the men milling around the airport and did spend the night trying to stay safe as I tried to find a train to take me to my destination, the train was empty except for six male passengers, who all showed leering interest in me, I locked myself in a loo at one stage, scared. So I hope the vulnerable, the very young, elderly etc are given help and support in such situations & help to find safe accommodation. I couldn’t find anyone of the staff of the foreign airline to help me that night. I had to take risks with my safety, I didn’t know what else to do.

I don’t agree with universal “automatic compensation”. In effect all it does is to put a mark-up on the ticket price. While this may suit many travellers it will not suit all; I don’t see why those who are happy to take their chances should not be allowed to do so. What the airlines should do is to offer insurance against these risks and people can pick and choose which risks they are willing to take. Now I would agree that carriers should be required to offer this sort of insurance and there should be a regulatory body ensuring that premiums are not a rip-off.

Dave says:
8 June 2017

And I thought it was commonplace for any reasonably large organisation to have emergency back-up plans (and not just for IT mishaps or H&S)… but it usefully shows BA’s incompetence … and maybe a review & reduction of the salaries of senior officers & Board members ?? we can but hope…

BA has enjoyed a good reputation: it is now in decline. Unless BA directors act to improve customer service generally and to improve their reaction to disaster scenarios, the future of BA is certain: a declining share of air traffic.

Sean says:
8 June 2017

On a recent BA flight to New York my family and I were delayed by 3hours 20 minutes.

When I tried to enquire about compensation having been delayed past the three hour mark I was told my flight was “officially” delayed by 2hours 28 minutes.

They obviously fiddled the numbers to avoid paying out and I feel conned.
Also, they would not reimburse the child taxes even though by law they have to and just go quiet on you.

Utterly disgraceful!

I support all those claiming justice for poor management.

They shouldn’t just offer automatic compensation after the event, they need to offer immediate assistance to passengers who are stranded eg who’s home is more than eg100 miles from the airport. the stories of people falling victim to local hotels who were taking advantage by ramping up the prices that day are shocking. BA should have relationships with hotels and they should be making the calls and busing passengers to hotels that night – all at their cost. unless we make these sorts of event prohibitively expensive for airlines, they will always please their shareholders by taking unacceptable risks to save money. Currently, BA has relatively little downside from this fiasco. if the financial cost to them was 5x what it is today and automatic, not something they can spend months dragging out, you can bet they would have spent the money beforehand to prevent this sort of scenario.

I want compensation, when buses are late
I want compensation when a booked taxi is late picking me up
I want compensation when I have to wait in a queue
Need I go on

Yes, but a quieter tone may get you further mate.

John Owens says:
8 June 2017

I find it incredible that a company such as BA do not have a synchronous failover system with separate power supplies and network connections. This is pretty basic minimum requirements for any Business Continuity solution. This was further exacerbated by management lies and obfuscation when the proverbial hit the fan and they totally failed to communicate with their customers. I would expect a few very senior heads to roll and an announcement from BA regarding how they have changed their IT and Customer Support systems to ensure this can never happen again.

Another possible improvement occurs to me. The Tory manifesto floats the idea of worker representation on company boards, a very good idea which Germany has had for years, though knowing the Tories I’m not holding my breath. I bet BA hasn’t got a consumer/passenger rep on its board. Something to campaign for?

Those responsible accept and go, SACK, take responsibility for actions, or lack off.

Fortunately air ticket prices have plummeted in the last 20 years but as far as service is concerned it has been a race to the bottom because certain destinations are only serviced by a small number of airlines and the need to provide a decent service is not important to them. That prices have come down is great but we cannot rely on airlines to provide a decent service when that happens. The only thing to work is compensation provided for in legislation for example: keeping customers informed, re-routing or an accommodation promise within 4 hours, cooperation with other airlines to fill any gaps, delays over 12 hours compensated at 50% above the fare paid PLUS the next fright free. Etc Etc. This might uplift costs a bit but the service will get better and I don’t mind that.

We have suffered previously from B.A’s appalling ‘service’. It took 3 months of my constant nagging/time/phone bill to extract a refund for the cost of a seat upgrade we had bought. On departure the aircraft was changed so the seats disappeared – along with out money! They offer a dreadful service, they are rude & arrogant and they just won’t learn, they can’t even do a decent sincere apology.
They need to pay up and start taking their paying customers seriously.