Com­puter out­age prompts Bri­tish Airways to can­cel flights from Lon­don

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY AVI SELK avi.selk@wash­ More at wash­ing­ton­ news/dr-grid­lock

A com­puter out­age crip­pled one of the world’s busiest flight hubs Satur­day, forc­ing Bri­tish Airways to can­cel all flights out of two Lon­don air­ports, leav­ing ter­mi­nals in chaos and pas­sen­gers stranded.

“To­day, we have ex­pe­ri­enced a ma­jor IT sys­tem fail­ure that is caus­ing very se­vere dis­rup­tions to our flight op­er­a­tions world­wide,” Bri­tish Airways chief ex­ec­u­tive Alex Cruz said in a video mes­sage, as re­ports spread of er­rors on its web­site, ticket ma­chines, bag­gage ter­mi­nals and tech­ni­cal in­fras­truc­ture.

Cruz wore a yellow safety vest as he spoke near Heathrow Europe’s busiest air­port and ma­jor hub — where bag­gage piled on the floor and gate in­for­ma­tion had to be writ­ten on a white­board. Bri­tish Airways can­celed all de­par­tures at Heathrow and at nearby Gatwick Air­port.

Flights were sup­posed to re­sume Satur­day evening, but the air­line later an­nounced that none of its planes would leave the air­ports be­fore Sun­day.

One pas­sen­ger told the As­so­ci­ated Press she couldn’t trans­fer to an­other flight be­cause “they can’t bring up our de­tails.”

Although only Bri­tish Airways de­par­tures from the two air­ports were di­rectly af­fected, a cas­cade of prob­lems rip­pled around the world. For ex­am­ple, the BBC re­ported, planes try­ing to land at Heathrow, which serves about 200,000 pas­sen­gers a day, were un­able to park be­cause of jets clog­ging the gates. One pas­sen­ger said he sat on his plane in Heathrow at for 90 min­utes and that his pi­lot ex­plained the tech­ni­cal prob­lem was “cat­a­strophic.”

Cruz said a power sup­ply prob­lem is be­lieved to have trig­gered the cri­sis. A Bri­tish Airways spokes­woman told The Wash­ing­ton Post that “there’s no ev­i­dence it’s a cy­ber­at­tack.”

A trade union blamed it on lay­offs and out­sourc­ing of tech­nol­ogy jobs. “This could have all been avoided,” Mick Rix, na­tional of­fi­cer for avi­a­tion at the GMB union, told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “We can only feel gen­uinely sorry for the tens of thou­sands of pas­sen­gers who are stranded at air­ports.”

It’s not the first time Bri­tish Airways has suf­fered a tech­nol­ogy melt­down. The com­pany’s web­site and on­line check-in sys­tem went down for at least seven hours last month, the Reg­is­ter re­ported. And glitches caused wide­spread Bri­tish Airways de­lays at the same air­port on at least two occasions last year, ac­cord­ing to Reuters.

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