WISH YOU WEREN’T HERE!
BA meltdown hits 70,000 ++ Heathrow ground staff still set to walk out ++ Now Ryanair pilots to strike in summer of hell for holidaymakers
HOLIDAYMAKERS were facing airport misery last night amid crippling IT failures and the threat of strikes. The chaos began yesterday when a check-in system meltdown hit tens of
thousands of British Airways passengers at Heathrow and Gatwick.
More than 400 flights were cancelled or delayed before the issue was fixed, leaving BA facing a £16million compensation bill and knock- on disruption that could continue today. Ryanair pilots – who are already paid up to £180,000 a year – added to the agony last night by announcing plans to strike later this month in a dispute over pay and benefits.
The walkout – orchestrated by pilots’ union Balpa – is scheduled to go ahead on August 22 and August 23, the height of the summer holidays. It is set to overlap with a separate strike by around 4,000 Heathrow workers, including security staff and engineers, which is due to go ahead on August 23 and 24.
At the same time, passengers are still facing the threat of a strike by British Airways pilots. Their union is still locked in talks with the carrier over a pay dispute that could yet trigger a walkout later this month.
The unrest threatens further misery for holidaymakers at one of the busiest times of the year, when tens of thousands of families are heading abroad. Last night, Tory MP Steve Double, a member of the commons Transport committee, criticised unions for worsening the disruption. ‘Unions should not be holding holidaymakers to ransom to extract better pay deals for their members,’ he said.
The torment began at 6am for thousands of families at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City yesterday when British Airways’ online check-in system crashed. As staff were forced to process baggage manually, huge queues built up. Passengers were also unable to check in online.
By the time BA announced the problem had been sorted around ten hours later, around 127 flights had been cancelled and 300 were delayed, affecting 70,000 holidaymakers. The IT glitch caused knock- on disruption at airports around the UK, as well as far afield as Japan, India and the US. BA now faces a potential £16million compensation bill, with short-haul passengers eligible for a payout of up to £230 under EU rules.
Some passengers described scenes of ‘bedlam’ at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. There were also com
‘Holding families to ransom’
plaints of a ‘pathetic’ lack of information, and a shortage of BA staff on hand to help.
To make matters worse, Gatwick passengers were also hit by cancellations or delays on the Gatwick Express rail service from London Victoria. Naomi Leach of Which? Travel, said: ‘This apparent BA systems failure is another kick in the teeth for travellers who are likely to have spent weeks worrying about whether their holiday flights will take off.’ Passengers were offered the chance to re-book their flights or apply for a refund.
But some families desperate to get away for their summer break paid hundreds of pounds on flights with other airlines, meaning they could be left heavily out of pocket.
BA has been plagued by previous IT issues. In 2017 a power outage at Heathrow stranded tens of thousands of passengers over the May bank holiday weekend. The airline is also facing a record £183million fine after hackers stole the personal details of up to half a million passengers last year.
Chief executive Alex Cruz did not make a public apology yesterday, but was understood to be working all day at Heathrow to help deal with the problem. A BA spokesman said: We apologise to all our customers caught up in the disruption, and appreciate how frustrating their experience has been. Meanwhile, the announcement of strike action by Ryanair pilots only added to the frustration. Along with this month’s planned walkouts, more are planned for September 2 and 4.
Balpa will not say how many pilots are involved, but the union is understood to represent around half of the airline’s flyers.
The threat of a separate pilots’ strike at BA will hang over hundreds of thousands of Britons who have booked flights with the airline this summer. The protest involving around 4,000 workers at Heathrow, including security staff and engineers, will still go ahead if they reject an improved pay offer. A walkout scheduled for Monday and Tuesday was suspended.
One of the world’s biggest airlines, BA made record profits of almost £2billion last year, flying more than 145,000 passengers a day. The carrier, in its centenary year, employs around 4,500 pilots – with captains paid an average of £167,000.
Grounded: Gatwick passengers, top, and departure board at Heathrow yesterday
HEATHROW Left: Go back home, BA tells its customers. Above: Grim-faced passengers, many of them with nowhere to even sit down,
Going nowhere: Dozens of passengers wait in queues after IT meltdown yesterday