British Airways IT glitch sparks 'absolute chaos' with 175 flight cancellations

Some 20,000 people's flights were cancelled ahead of the bank holiday due to BA technical glitch

Thousands of travellers' half-term holiday plans have been thrown into disarray after British Airways cancelled at least 175 flights due to an IT failure.

The majority were short-haul routes to and from Heathrow Airport, on a day experts anticipated to be the busiest for UK air travel since before the pandemic.

Some 20,000 passengers are thought to have been affected by the cancellations, hitting BA flights, just before the bank holiday weekend.

Friday’s chaos has been caused by planes and crew being in the wrong place after an IT problem lead to around 80 flights being grounded on Thursday.

The airline has apologised after the issue sparked the cancellations of flights to popular domestic and European destinations such as Paris, Stockholm, Rome, Athens, and Nice on Friday.

A spokesperson for the airline said: "While the vast majority of our flights continue to operate today, we have cancelled some of our short-haul flights from Heathrow due to the knock-on effect of a technical issue that we experienced yesterday. 

"We've apologised to customers whose flights have been affected and offered them the option to rebook to an alternative flight with us or another carrier or request a refund."

The airline added, where possible cancellations have been focused on routes with several daily flights, enabling passengers to rebook at alternative times.

One British man described the situation as “absolute chaos” as he and his wife missed out on seeing film composer Hans Zimmer perform in Berlin due to British Airways cancelling their flight.

Antony Knights, 44, said: “Terminal 5 turned into absolute chaos and pretty much everybody was queuing to speak to the desk, and there were only two members of BA staff on it and zero announcements.

“There were only two members of staff manning the queue, which was probably around 100 metres long. There were people everywhere needing assistance.

“It was pretty disappointing and frustrating. Things happen from time to time but this is not the first time British Airways systems have impacted people.”

Antony Knights, left, and Jim Wheaton and his daughter, right Credit: Antony Knights/Jim Wheaton/PA

Meanwhile, an American man discovered at Heathrow his British Airways flight to Boston had been cancelled, causing his daughter with Down's syndrome to miss the rehearsal dinner for a friend’s wedding.

Jim Wheaton, 66, said it was “pretty disappointing” that, due to the cancelled flight, “I don’t think she’s going to be able to get there tomorrow for the wedding either”.

Mr Wheaton eventually travelled with American Airlines without his baggage and said he had “no confidence (British Airways) were going to get this thing straight”.

Heathrow said the problem was not related to a three-day strike over pay by security officers at Terminal 5 which began on Thursday.

The airport spokesperson said: “British Airways is currently working to resolve a technical issue with a number of its systems.

"We have additional Heathrow colleagues on-hand in the terminals to provide passengers with any additional assistance required.”

British Airways released a statement just before 10pm on Thursday and said: “We’re aware of a technical issue, which we have been working hard to fix”.

“Due to high call volumes please only contact us if you’re due to travel in the next 48 hours.”

A tweet from British Airways at 11.27pm on Thursday said their “systems are back up and running” but there might still be “intermittent issues.”

The airline said they are working hard to fix an IT issue that has caused the cancellation of dozens of flights Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Customers can receive refunds, re-book or if they have to stay overnight they will be offered meals and hotel accommodation.

One Twitter user, who was at the airport at around 7pm Thursday, said: “Almost all BA flights from LHR T5 cancelled tonight. No info. About 4 people on BA desks trying to deal with the chaos.

“Come on BA you can do better than this. You are supposed to be the UK’s flagship.”

The delays and cancellations are expected to continue on Friday.

British Airways has suffered a series of IT failures in recent years.

The latest glitch comes after the airline had to cancel flights just before Christmas due to IT issues, and in 2017 when hundreds of flights from Heathrow and Gatwick airports were cancelled due to an IT failure.

Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, said: “Occurrences like this are becoming all too familiar.

“BA has a legal responsibility to refund or reroute any passenger caught up in the chaos, and travellers shouldn’t be shy about enforcing their rights.”

Aviation analytics firm Cirium says there is a scheduled 11,356 flights departing the country's airports across the bank holiday weekend up until Monday, May 29 - equating to two million seats.

The Port of Dover was busy on Friday as thousands of people embark on cross-Channel ferry trips.

Ferry operator DFDS said shortly before 8.30am that there was a wait of around an hour at border control for travellers in cars, while coach traffic was “free-flowing”.

This comes after coach passengers at the Kent port suffered delays of several hours ahead of the Easter school holidays.

The RAC estimated that drivers across the UK will embark on 19.2 million leisure car trips between Friday and Monday as people make the most of the bank holiday weekend.

Transport data company Inrix warned that journeys on some stretches of the M25 will take up to three times longer than normal.

They included clockwise from Junction 23 for Hatfield to Junction 28 for Chelmsford, and anticlockwise towards the Dartford Crossing.

Long delays were also expected on the M5 in Somerset and the M6 in Cheshire and Greater Manchester.

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