/ Travel & Leisure

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?

Carolyn Barrett says:
8 June 2017

Everyone I heard speaking on the News complained about lack of information — that’s the first thing that needs improvement! But of course compensation should be automatic.

There should be a duty of care placed on the Airlines to keep their passengers updated when things go wrong, by email and/or a web page which is advised to the passengers on their ticket. This should include advice to the passengers as to what action they should take: should they stay at home, or if already at the airport should they hang around, find a hotel or find an alternative flight. If find a hotel, then what time/date should they report back into check in.

That’s the trouble with this country today every everyone wants something for nothing, if your delayed suck it in it will get sorted eventually.

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines. Please refrain from using offensive language. Thanks, mods]

AlfredSym, how do you propose trying to avoid this situation in the future, or at least minimize future effects of delays to passengers? Can you offer any constructive way forward?

Compensatory policy and/or legislation creates or should create accountability within product and services providers which puts the onus on continuos improvement to prevent a better customer experience and service level. Compensation in this case is not about “something for nothing”. BA’S PASSENEGERS IN THIS CASE HAVE SUFFERED AT THE HANDS OF POOR CUSTOMER SERVICE DUE TO A TOP DOWN CULTURE OF NON TRANPARENCY AND HONESTY. WITHOUT THIS, COMMUNICATION TO AFFECTED PASSENGERS CANNOT BE EFFECTED ADEQUATELY. Are you listening B.A., Your CEO should take ultimate responsibility followed by the board if found complicit. Fall on your sword(s) if you have the guts to.

Vote with your feet passengers🙉🙈🙊

I really don’t think that it is wanting something for nothing expectingly to be reasonably compensated for having your holiday/wedding/business trip ruined. No doubt you would be yelling loudly if you went to the airport for you holiday, that you have saved hard for, or the wedding abroad that cost you thousands that you have been really looking forward to, only to find yourself sleeping on the floor of a terminal building for several days. I don’t think that is greedy, I think that that is devastating

Julie, I quite agree. Thanks for the comments, the more we debate, the more leverage we have to affect change. This forum like all of Which’s will help I am sure.🦉

BA has always charged much too much for its fares, you would have thought that its systems were state of the art. But no, far too much money goes to its fatcat bosses, sod the passengers!! It is time that these huge companies were made by law to make sure they give good service, which, having flown with them, is not happening.

Anthony Booth says:
8 June 2017

Nobody outside London and the South East gives a fig about British Airways anymore, they are totally London Centric and have no right to call themselves “British” Airways as they do not fly from a single European or Continental destination to anywhere in Britain except Heathrow and Gatwick. Through the trade descriptions act they should be forced to change their name to London Airways(anyone fancy starting a petition). We in The North West head out of Manchester direct all over the world and Europe on Etihad, Emirates, Cathay, China, Delta, American ,Singapore, Lufty, Turkish etc etc all national airlines serving Manchester which our own supposed national airline BA abandoned years ago to retreat to it’s London centrism.

Barry Harrison says:
8 June 2017

Is the CEO giving up his bonus this year and using the proceeds to compensate passengers for an erro9r for which he must take responsibility?

I believe that BA should be more forthcoming with information when they have a problem rather than burying their head in the sand. It is not acceptable for any organisation to treat their customers in this way.

I am a member of BA Executive Club and am thoroughly fed up with BA changing my member status after many years of travelling with them . Last year we travelled four times with BA, but because we did not book any flights with them after August our membership status was downgraded. They treat their Executive Club (so called) members as badly as they treated all their customers during this horrendous system breakdown. They will lose a lot of the travelling public including their Executive Club Members if they carry on this way. There are lots of other airlines out there. It is time for BA to wake up and start treat their travelling customers in a better. Enough said.

Any reputable airline, who, in the face of a total breakdown of their Computer facility, not only should, but must have a back-up system to proceed to go ahead with in and outgoing flights within a reasonable time. This has not been the case with probably the leading Airline in the world, BRITISH AIRWAYS. This is not acceptable, not in their demise, but in the treatment of passengers at the Airport with a lack of information which, a) prevented them from leaving or making alternative arrangements for them and their families, and, b) provided no reassurance whatsoever, no hope and no direction of what to do in the short and long term. Unforgiveable!!

They need to retrain their staff in customer communications and bring in additional staff when delays happen to help. Communications are one of the most important areas and they have been lacking in this for years.

BA should pay insurance up front in case of problems to assist with help needed for accomodation etc. We have to, why shouldn’t they, it’s not as if BA can’t afford it.

Tarka Dal says:
8 June 2017

It’s not a good idea to encourage compensation culture, shame on you Which?. It’s a good thing that B.A. being a bad company, loses customers and then goes out of business to make room for companies that provide a service customers can be happy with. Choose a better airline for better service, it’s common sense that’s needed here.

Can see your points here Tarka Dal. However, I think there is a balance between moral obligation, codes of practice, legislation and free market competition. Would you agree?

Allen Churchyard says:
8 June 2017

LHR Terminal 5 is like the home of BA. Therefore an announcement to explain the problem should have at least been made to passengers awaiting boarding there. If nothing else the Terminal Manager should have stood-up, taken the bull by the horns and admitted the airline’s responsibility for the problem. The whys and wherefores could have been argued out later. It is time the management of these enormous companies faced the flak as should be expected for the pay they are getting. Even a short, “Sorry for the delays, BA is suffering IT problems” would have at least warned the customer of what was going on. Come on conglomerates earn your pay for once.

A Beeston says:
8 June 2017

Immediate and clear information to everyone – maybe on a screen.

Terry says:
8 June 2017

Rather than immediate compo from a company reliant on unreliable technology (Even NASA have failures in software, you know) Shouldn’t passengers be offered an insurance to cover such eventualities?

How can an airline be expected to compensate anyone for a missed wedding or birth for example?
A policy would have a range of payouts dependant on many factors which the individual can cover themselves against.

Immediate payments for re-booked flights Etc and food or even overnight accommodation should be made on the spot (Airlines can take out insurance for such events) and as said before, keeping your customers informed of the situation is just good manners and shows respect for their custom.

I can see you point Terry, but believe that some automatic compensation should be factored in. These multinationals know exactly where their operational vulnerabilities lie and what the potential associated “costs”, of failure are, not just monetary. They and their. Boards have a responsibility firstmost to their customers and not their shareholders. Hmmm big debate could open up here, chicken and egg? What do you think?

If BA have virtualised their systems it would be easy to spread the applications and workload across many servers locally or between Data Centres! Even if they haven’t virtualised their systems High Availability can be provided for different layers of architecture with data replication at local and remote sites making switching to an alternate system in a reasonable timeframe (if not minutes) in the event of a catastrophic failure! These days costs don’t have to be ‘sky high’ to deliver 99.999% availability even allowing for system and application upgrades!
For this event I would question why ‘Change Control’ didn’t grill the Team Leader/person in charge of the change before it was authorised! Reading other comments I can see the same type of change may have previously occurred in San Francisco but they got out of the mess by reverting to backups! If this is the case why was the same type of change allowed to happen again here? In my experience, particularly on changes to critical systems Change Control would want a step by step detailed explanation of the change in order to understand all events are covered and assess the risk, and approval is only given when they are completely satisfied and/or any risk is mitigated! Regards the cause being power issues and things ‘fried’, I am aware this has happened to other data centres but only when the wrong process has been followed!

Absolutely Cres.

Tarka Dal says:
8 June 2017

In response to J, respectfully yes balance has its place and that was also one of my points. Compensation culture is not balanced. It is not necessary to overcomplicate this issue, simply don’t trust idiots and their poor computer systems to fly planes. Or take your chances and don’t complain when the obvious happens, as this scenario proves.

Good point! Thanks.

A Horsted says:
8 June 2017

BA standards are dropping.
If cutting staff wasn’t high on the agenda BA would be able to provide the reasonable customer service we have always expected.

As a former employee of a subsidiary of BA I can honestly say that BA have not designed a very robust disaster recovery if this shambles is the direct result of someone pressing the wrong button. I have not read any of the previous comments so apologies if this has been said but BA are encouraging a whole heap of shoddy companies to go chasing after passengers to get them what they deserve in compensation and then charge a huge %. The way you design a customer service experience is to make the whole experience one that could be a reflection of a great ‘national’ airline with the word British in it! What a fiasco and disgrace.

Alison, if I may what I think you are getting at is a sense of organizational pride within an organisations structure and it’s culture. Pride. I may be wrong, but suspect that like many multinationals BA has fallen fowl to shareholder”obligations”. BA, Go look, see and study Virgin organizational structure and culture. You can’t learn that from a textbook, only through true leadership and vision. BA, get a grip, this fiasco is probably your last wake up call on the descent to the abyss. Wake up and smell the bacon 🥓 folks. Just do it soon enough to not screw over your remaining employees and also prevent any further loss to your passenger base.

Delays can happen for a number of reasons such but to name just two more common ones being weather conditions, maintenance issues, it’s hard to imagine why people want compensation for these reasons as weather is not controllable and the maintenance issues occur normally in flight, such as lighting strikes, bird and drone strikes but these things are all unavoidable.

Now when flight delayed by a technical glitch such as a computer issue should passengers be able to claim compensation yes but only after so many days (for example two) until that though, the company in question should put the families and people inconvenience up until the issue is resolved and should also keep in touch with passengers by text, email and should be able to give information to a representative.

Blank, you say so many days. 😳 How many exactly? WTF. Who do you represent? Are you British?

Nothing much changes then.
I have been previously delayed twice when on a BA flight.
First time when the NATS computer failed after an upgrade. BA used the most junior clerk to inform passengers that no flights would leave that evening and that the terminal would close shortly and we all had to leave. The US citizens were incensed! Que’d all night to be re-booked on a flight whose crew were out of time and never left. They then added insult to injury by failing to assist with a personal travel insurance claim after abandoning the trip.
Second time when a delayed connecting flight failed to meet the long haul flight. After a 24+ hour delay EU compensation was questioned, lost the flight times and delay time, and were very slow in meeting their obligations
My best wishes to all those affected and never give up.

B.A. should stop acting like a budget airline and treat passengers as valued customers.

BA’s actions and inactions in this latest fiasco rank them sub budget. Have any of the U.K. so called budget airlines suffered such a catastrophic problem as this for so many people, even proportionately? Need someone with more insight than me to answer this one please….