/ 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?

Wendy Garrett says:
9 June 2017

There is too much secrecy, the lack of information isn’t an oversight or accident, it’s deliberate and it’s widespread. Cutting you off during a conversation when you’ve spent so much time hanging on is probably corporate policy. There should be an investigation into this practice.

Transparency and immediate compensation

Compensation on if connecting flights have been missed .First or business class seating should also be,included within compensation

The appalling debacle of recent events says it all. BA is no better if not worse than the cheaper airlines. Your paying premium prices for a cheap service. It is no longer the best of British!

The root cause was completely out of BA control.
Compensation ultimately increases fare costs etc.
Annoying and inconvenient it must have been, but sometimes you have to ‘suck it up’……

That’s not quite true. The ‘power surge’ only happened on the BA side of the electricity supply and it does appear that it was panic or sloppy engineering by BA that contributed to the problem.

C Cole – No one is expecting the whole industry to contribute to the cost of compensation, just those companies who have failed to provide the service expected of them. The best way to avoid paying compensation is to run a company properly.

BA need much better back-up systems for their computers. Now BA are saying that a worker accidentally switched their computer system off! This means that unless they put their system right, it cannot be trusted and could happen again! This is not acceptable.

I agree with Malcolm R that automated compensation can lull us into taking no responsibility for our own choices – just expect ‘nanny’ compensation for anything that ever goes wrong. The way to deal with BA’s poor communicatons and service is to avoid using them, and leave feedback on their performance for others to be warned.
At the same time, if standards fall below regulatory levels, then I believe that fixed compensation levels with a simple application process is better than wasting inordinate money and effort in case by case ‘hardship’ compensation. Further individual protection can be obtained through insurance.

How would we take responsibility for our own choices in a case like this, Brian? I don’t know which airlines run their IT systems responsibly. Maybe BA should have taken out insurance against large and – as far as we know at present – justifiable claims. A missed flight is often more complicated than having to wait for the next train.

I agree Brian. We are in danger of being led into a world where we always look for someone to blame and pay up, whereas in the real world we need to think about possible consequences that might upset our plans. If an appointment that requires a plane journey is absolutely crucial then I would make sure I had options – suppose the airline you are flying with has a problem not of their making? Compensation won’t help you. Maybe fly much earlier than you need, or the day before.

However, as i said earlier, an airline should be seen to be doing all it can to help its customers, whatever the circumstances – rerouting, alternative airlines, accommodation if necessary.

A point was made earlier about cheap flights – you can only expect to get what you pay for and, like cheap rail tickets, will have limited if any recompense if things go wrong. Travel insurance is your best bet then, isn’t it?

I flew with BA to Venice a couple of years ago and the flight was delayed by just over three hours. At no point did BA staff mention that passengers were entitled to compensation. Fortunately I bothered to do an internet search to check my rights. When I did apply for compensation for myself and my travelling companion they said I couldn’t claim for him because we didn’t have the same surname. They put several other obstacles in our way including not replying to emails and deliberately not giving me the correct contact details to make my claim. I therefore agree that compensation, at least insofar as the statutory amount is concerned, should be automatic as I calculate the airlines are defrauding passengers out of millions of pounds.

Gerry says:
9 June 2017

BA should be prosecuted for breaching both the Equality Act 2010 and OFCOM regulations. Perhaps Which? would like to kick this off?

BA shamelessly discriminate against impaired people by making them use a Service Charge number with a total cost of up to 60p per minute (search for “0845 700 7706”) but for everyone else BA provide an 0344 number that’s free or never charged at more than Basic Rate.

BA’s website illegally claims that their rip-off Service Charge number 0844 493 0 747 costs 7p per minute (search for Hickson 7p British Airways 0844), but the true cost from a mobile is likely to be 62p per minute (conveniently, they have omitted the mandatory OFCOM warning about the Access Charge).

I wonder whether BA choose to ignore Health & Safety legislation as well?

Marjorie Field says:
9 June 2017

As a major company BA should have had an emergency contingency plan in place for IT failure. This was a feature of an IT business course I did more than 20 years ago! I would have thought there was greater need than ever for reliable back-up systems these days. BA Management were failing in their duties. There is every reason why all passengers should be compensated in full.

Graham Chapman MBE says:
9 June 2017

Having flown last summer to JFK from T 5 . BA did not register that we were on their outbound flight,so CANCELLED our return flight that we had paid for ,but couldnt be bothered to inform us of their action .Can you imagine the stress caused on the day of our return flight 3 weeks later. BA did absolutely NOTHING to help . Their management are weak ,cannot communicate at best , at worst the Management hide away and are none existent .T hey are by far the worst most arrogant company I have ever had to deal with. Customer Service is not in their vocabulary . After speaking to 5 BA staff members when I got home ,including writing to CEO Alex Cruz who hadnt even got the good manners to even reply ,eventually they offered me a £50 B A Voucher . I told them where to put their voucher ,as I would not fly BA EVER AGAIN ,even if I had to swim to N York.! (I was looking for real compensation because their errors cost me £350 . They demonstrated a lesson in how not to treat good customers ,who are frequent fliers and can influence friends and family . BA are simply a DISGRACE to the name of BRITISH . This latest incident does not surprise me one bit . B A c**k up again and expect their customers to get compensation from Insurance Companies ……blame anyone but themselves . They would struggle to organise themselves out of a paper bag . Give me Easy Jet Jet 2, Ryan Air ,even a Micro lite anyday ……next week we fly with Thomas Cook.
Because BA had no idea how to handle the problem they caused ,they have now missed out on 3 Long Haul
journeys . Alex ….Willie .you have much work to do ! Communication is another word BA do not understand
FROM an Ex customer ………. very frustrated and still angry Graham from Lancashire .
B A Its never too late to change your culture and attitude—–no matter how big you are !!

Last year my husband and I had our luggage lost. He is totally blind and I use a walking aid. My walking aid was lost so at the airport we asked for a ‘ temporary’ aid. We were offered a manual wheelchair and had to explain WHY we couldn’t use it!!
They didn’t have anything else for such emergencies. I hope others don’t experience
this, we had to get a taxi and pay for it.

Some years ago after flooding at Cape Verde which caused a bridge to collapse we were kept at the hotel for several hours awaiting the new arrivals, in order to return to the airport When they arrived they were in jeeps, which had to ferry the whole of all the new arrivals and departing people back and forth with each trip. When we arrived at the airport , as darkness was falling , the plane we should have departed on flew off without any passengers on board. When the TUI staff were asked as to what was going on, they eventually said that the pilot could not wait any longer as there was insufficeint lighting on the runway for the size of the aircraft and therefore the pilot left for his,and his staffs own safety. Everyone left at the airport demanded to be taken back to the hotel but were told that the hotel was fully booked and the management would not allow any of us back in the premises to stay an extra night, be it with no rooms left or not. In the end my wife and I, together with the rest of the passengers, some of whom had babes in arms, had to sleep at the airport, which had no roof on it. under the stars and had to sleep on the floor, while others, thanks to the army sending camp beds to the airport slept, or tried too sleep, on them. We were only given a bottle of water and some disgusting type of what I would describe as lumpy porridge, for the whole of the time up to boarding the plane the following morning. Many of the passengers were bit to death by mosquitoes and after months of arguments we were offered a miserly amount of compensation. The whole of the TUI staff, bar 3, were at a loss as to what to do, however they disappeared to an hotel themselves overnight, and just showed no interest at all, stating it was not their fault and we should just put up with it. So yes it is about time these Companies were held to ransom and behave in a responsible manner and pay adequate compensation accordingly.

Immediately test new recovery procedures, with customers present to observe. This testing needs to include far better communications and staffing resources by BA.

BA staff must stop being arrogant to customers

Mike says:
9 June 2017

The first action taken by an airline is to find their excuse that will prevent any need to pay. My wife and I were delayed on a flight for 24hours. the reason given was weather problems. While we were waiting we were watching aircraft taking off with no problems. Checking our destination there were no weather problems. We were kept standing waiting for transport to a hotel for two hours, we are both over 80, the staff at the airport we not very helpful. While we were waiting for boarding we were told our aircraft had landed late, then we were told it was delayed, then another passenger checked on his phone and told us the flight was cancelled!

Paula Darby says:
9 June 2017

Shambolic customer service at Gatwick airport.
We had to book our own outbound flight. Thanks goodness my dad had his credit card with him to cover £6k extra flight bill one way. Needed car hire to Manchester to get the flight. BA then tried to send 4 of our party of 11 home – Tenerife to Madrid then Heathrow!
Let’s hope BA do the honerable thing & compensate us fully.

You would not treat an animal like this as they would fed and watered in there temporary home in the airports animal transit centre!!

In another recent incident, BA ignored calls to stop selling trips to SeaWorld, a notorious abuser of orcas and other marine animals, preferring to continue profiting from the imprisonment and torture of animals. These calls included a petition signed by 288,000 people. BA therefore became the subject of a boycott call which it richly deserves and I hope will be well supported.

Should BA, then, stop flying to all countries with, for example, repressive regimes where humans are subject to abuse?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I suspect to some they might.

BA should treat customers with respect by giving prompt and clear information especially when there is a breakdown of service. They should take responsibility for failure and organise facilities so that passengers have access to basic facilities such as access to food, rest, hygiene and comfort. BA’s arrogance was monumental and its failure to face up to its legal and social responsibilities has seriously damaged its reputation.

Baldev Sharma says:
9 June 2017

Such a debacle should not happen again. It was a shame that there was lack of communication to the passengers by British Airways. They left the passengers in lurch. Nor no provisions were made for refreshments and sleeping arrangements for the stranded passengers. This was a gross failure by the management.