British Airways should come clean about computer chaos

With two check-in meltdowns last year the airline must have known there were bugs in the system that needed fixing. British Airways with all its goodness still had its system failed terribly at the weekend. First on 18th of July flight were delayed up to four hours at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Airline explained the delay as a brief problem with check-in system. Three months later on 6th of September people waited in queues only to be handed hand written boarding passes and luggage labels. This time it was blamed on “operational reasons”. Pilot reported the passengers that it was a “computer glitch”

British Airways

It is not possible that British Airways boss Alex Cruz was not aware of airline’s IT problems earlier. Still when Heathrow Terminal 5 saw the great disorder, Cruz only offered his deepest apologies in a video message. Cruz said that the power supply issues are the root cause. His talk about the problematic power flow were laughed at by IT experts who work for uninterrupted power supply, back up centers and mirror sites of major IT projects. The experts pointed out that electricity supply at BA’s head office site, Harmondsworth had been running perfectly.

Vueling, A Spanish airline is a subsidiary of BA’s parent company IAG. Cruz was in charge at Vueling before British Airways. It also faced an IT failure with no clear explanation. Early July last year customers suffered a four day chaos at Barcelona-El Prat as the airline cancelled a number of flights.  The situation made Catalan authorities pressurize the company’s president to explain the event. In BA’s case the House of Commons transport should do the same. The delay over the weekend called for reimbursement, BA offered full refunds to the passengers. But there was no mention about the EU 261 rule that gives monetary compensation of up to €600 for delays over three hours or cancellations.

The compensation remains unclear as to how much a passenger will be compensated if he booked another costly flight to reach the destination. But there are no clear rules for this. Airline may pay for losses but they treat it case by case.

Passengers who wrote to Guardian’s consumer champion’s column said that claims take rather too long and are often unsuccessful.  Sometimes even if the staff promises to pay for another flight you book, their management rejects it later. A video evidence or similar sort of proof while counter staff is making a promise is the only way to claim your loss.

Many thought that BA’s stocks would go down after the incident. But when London market reopened after bank holiday IAG’s shares were mildly instable. By the end of the day they were down just 8.5p to 605p and were not even among the worst 10 FTSE-100 performers of the day. The IT meltdown barely spoiled airline group’s excellent performance over the past year. IAG’s shares are up by 60% since last summer. They are dealing at four times their 2012 level.

Many estimate that BA’s compensation bill will be about £100m. That is a little more than 0.5% of its revenues. Stock market is positive that airline would get back its position at the market.  But one passenger described Heathrow as “the angriest place I’ve been” over the weekend, stock market’s positivity could go wrong. As BA was managing its shattered schedules Ryanair got the golden chance. Michael O’Leary cut down the prices, costs and raised profits. In 2013 he changed the famous harsh customer service culture and never outsourced company’s IT. BA needs its customers to still stick to the airline. However after the weekend flight chaos suggests that Willie Walsh, boss IAG, could learn a lot from Irish rival.

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