As someone who was departing on the 27th of May on BA I happen to have first hand experience of the issues that amassed that day.
As my departure was late in the day I suspect my experience was quite different to those who had already checked-in, or were due to land when the issues occurred. It was a difficult day for everyone.
For completeness; BA had a systems failure, which knocked out their IT systems affecting everything (website, airport systems, and call centre)
My flight was scheduled to depart at 8.45pm, At 12.21 I checked to see if there were any delays and saw this;
Thats not right, which made me look to see if there were any issues. Ah..
Because I got a failure on the app, I sought more information and saw the notice about flights <6pm so left early expecting queues, however during my transfer to LHR BA’s site updated, cancelling all flights. I suspect a lot of people wouldn’t have realised.
I decided to turn around at Gatwick to try to find out my options and to not be stranded at Heathrow to fight public transport back home if my flight really wasn’t flying today.
Thoughts of “Surely my flight will still depart, it does a loop, so maybe I can still get on it, I have no baggage? ” So I ventured into the terminal at Gatwick, only to find the BA departure desks entirely empty of staff, I really hope that the staff were air side helping passengers and not hiding.. I spotted one, in a corner, surrounded by people, almost all customers were on their phones or trying to use the check-in machines without success.
Gatwick was busy and so was the train terminal. I went back home and called BA for advise (I somehow managed to get through quite quickly). The agent who answered was helpful, but they told me that as my booking was under airport control I would have to visit the airport to rebook, just turn up today/tomorrow and they can make the changes.
Although not initially clear, BA were offering full refunds, so I could have rebooked with someone else, but purchasing direct (flight only) left me to have to work out my own options. The only flights I could find were 2-3x more for coach. Given I had two sets of meetings, I could cope with a short delay by cancelling one, but I had to try to arrive by 9 latest on Monday. I wasn’t confident to rebook not knowing how long insurance would take to reimburse me.
Once I reached home, I resumed checking BA’s web site – the information didn’t tell me what to do, and different channels were not in sync (twitter was not current, facebook, and BA’s own web site did not say the same thing at the same time).
I tried to re-call BA but was cut off saying it was too busy, I was cut off after being held for 1h20 after trying lots of times.
My flight hadn’t departed yet, If I went to Heathrow could I get on the next flight? Would my chances be limited if I waited until the next day? If my flight should have departed would my booking be available to the call centre once the flight had been officially cancelled? Could I change an airport controlled booking at Gatwick? Should I cancel in entirety? Were there any seats available? Are Bags going to be a problem ? Quite a few questions.
When I retried calling (shortly after 10pm) BA’s call centre stopped answering on the numbers I had, giving out a message saying the number was closed and to call the number shown online! I wont say what went through my mind at that point.. NSFW!
So, I did what most people do.. You call your parents ! so I phoned my Dad, who kindly told me I was stupid to drive to Heathrow at 11pm! We agreed we’d go in the morning. It helps from time to time to get family support!
Bad night sleep, woke at 4.30am. Checked the site for updates, no updates. But the app was in the most part now working (yey!)
Re-booking was now apparently available on-line, but my booking was open-jaw so wasn’t rebookable online.
So I waited. At 6am exactly I dialled, and by some fortune had a short wait but got through.
The agent was understanding of my circumstances and was able to rebook me on an earlier flight, I was now good to fly on Sunday vs Saturday with a 17h delay. I already missed one meeting but could attend the others and not completely wreak my plans for the rest of the week.
I left a few hours later. Expecting queues I allowed 4h to departure – better to arrive early then to be unable to board due to a queue, or so I thought. Upon arriving at LHR T5 to my annoyance I found myself being blocked from entering, only departures within 90 minutes were allowed to enter. (urgh). Why couldn’t someone have said that .. I did check!!
People who turned up expecting to rebook were told to leave and call the call centre. This wasn’t good. Passengers were not pleased with the crowd control either. Not too surprisingly drink and snacks were not being offered outside.
After waiting outside for 2.5 hours I entered, all was fairly normal except for people asleep in the lounges and the airport being busier. No doubt Saturday must have been a nightmare.
Information screens showed announcements telling people with cancelled flights to leave. Not the best communication if you have no flight, nowhere to stay, or no phone service (or no credit card/insurance). Also do people know that HEX is Heathrow Express!
I’m going to refrain from commenting on Alex Cruz’s announcements in detail. I think Alex Cruz making a statement was the right thing to do, but given this wasn’t an airside issue I have no idea why he needed to be in a high-viz jacket. He explained the issue, but did not give clear instructions on what to do if you were not yet at the airport. Could we cancel, re-book? Will the website and app allow for rebooking?
The staff who were present were respectful, understanding and professional.
What I am surprised about is;
1. There was no direct communication at all despite the communication saying “Were working hard to get our customers who were due to fly”. Clearly that wasn’t me.
Were BA looking to their oneworld alliance partners to rebook customers? Apparently from a few people I spoke with who were at the airport .. no.
To note : I did receive an email 2 days later, but it wasn’t actually that specific and wasn’t even addressed personally!
2. The information published didn’t differentiate between customers who were at the airport, who were en-route, and who had not yet departed. Information needed to be specific and to relate. I can’t imagine how non-english speakers managed.
3. The information given on my first call was mis-leading. Had I gone to Heathrow I would have failed to do anything as clearly you could not rebook effectively at the airport.
4. Call Centres were overloaded. – systems couldn’t cope. Published numbers diverted and closed. Why wasn’t teams mobilised 24/7? or if they was why wasn’t the number made available?
Clearly there was no plan for this type of event, but I can’t imagine that there was no data at all to contact passengers – manifests would have been exported or should have been. The public information was so top level it left customers without clear instruction. This could have been much better.
BA did get things going eventually. I hope this has made people aware that IT can fail, its how we handle situations which makes the difference.