British Airways cancels short-haul flights from Heathrow after IT outage sparking passenger fury

Passengers queue at the Arrivals entrance of Heathrow Airport T5, London, as British Airways has cancelled all short-haul flights from the airport until midday and further disruption is expected throughout Saturday due to ongoing technical issues. Picture date: Saturday February 26, 2022.
Passengers queue at the Arrivals entrance of Heathrow Airport T5 as BA axed short-haul flights. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Passengers are furious over long delays after British Airways cancelled all short-haul flights from Heathrow Airport on Saturday due to a technical outage.

The airport had warned delays could be expected throughout the afternoon due to ongoing technical issues.

Hundreds of passengers queued at the entrance of Terminal 5 as delays dragged into Saturday afternoon, with some saying they were running late for holidays after waiting for years to go abroad due to pandemic cancellations.

BA said the problem, which may also cause delays for its customers using Gatwick and London City Airport, is related to a hardware issue and is not because of a cyber attack.

The major outage caused cancellations and delays of flights, pile-ups of luggage and passengers stuck on planes after landing at Heathrow.

BA said long-haul flights are still operating, but customers may experience some delays.

Dr Penny Slaney, 62, a consultant radiologist from Worcestershire, branded the situation “absolute chaos” and the lack of communication from BA “appalling”.

Passengers at Heathrow Airport as British Airways has cancelled all short-haul flights. Credit: PA

Dr Slaney said she and her daughter were due to be on the 9.15am flight to Salzburg for a holiday before their travel agent managed to move them to the 12.30 flight – but both were cancelled.

“The lack of communication is the primary issue. We heard about the IT issue from a fellow passenger,” Dr Slaney said.

She said their family have not been on holiday for three years and are missing a day of their week-long break in Austria.

“There was no information from BA at all – nothing. The news has told us more about what is going on,” Dr Slaney said.

“It has been absolute chaos. I could organise this better,” she said, adding that the staff at the terminal doors checking passenger details looked freezing without any warm clothing.

“They said to us when we got to the door to “go home”. I think that is very poorly managed.”

Susan Watson, who is in her mid-40s and works in London, said she was booked on the 12.15pm flight to travel to Aberdeen for work and to see family.

“I have got my godson’s 21st birthday party this evening so I was hoping to be there for that,” she said.

“I’m disappointed for both reasons, for work and for seeing my family and friends, so it is not ideal.”

Travellers posted pictures of departures and arrival boards capturing streams of cancellations on Saturday, and some passengers tweeted their frustrations at hours-long delays.

BA’s website and app were inaccessible for hours on Friday evening, preventing customers from checking in online or booking flights.

On Saturday morning, the airline advised customers to check the website for the latest flight information before coming to the airport.

By lunchtime, Heathrow tweeted an update warning there could be "knock-on effects" into the afternoon.

In a statement, BA said: “We are extremely sorry that due to the continuing technical issues we are facing we have regrettably had to cancel all short-haul flights from Heathrow today until midday.

“Customers due to travel later today should check their flight status on before coming to the airport as we anticipate further disruption during the day.

“Our long-haul services at Heathrow and all flights at Gatwick and London City Airport are due to operate as planned, but customers may experience some delays.

“Our website is working and customers can check-in online and at the airport.”

BA said it is offering customers on cancelled services options including a full refund and all passengers booked to travel on short-haul services from Heathrow on Saturday can rebook to a later date for free.

The airline said it will be contacting customers proactively, adding: “Our teams have been working hard through the night and will continue to do so to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

“We advise our customers due to travel today to check for the latest flight information before coming to the airport."

Photographs of departure boards in Heathrow Terminal 5 showed few flights boarding, while people complained on social media about a lack of information.

It is BA’s second outage in 10 days and the latest of several high-profile IT incidents to hit the airline.

Last summer BA settled a legal claim over a major data breach that affected 420,000 customers and staff.

The breach in 2018 included the leaking of names, addresses and card payment details and led to the Information Commissioner’s Office handing out a fine of £20 million.

On July 18 2018, computer problems hit BA operations at Heathrow and the airline cancelled a number of short-haul flights after the incident involving a “supplier IT system”.

In May 2017, 75,000 bank holiday travellers were stranded after a glitch forced the airline to cancel nearly 726 flights over three days.

The outage was suspected to have been caused by human error after an engineer disconnected and then reconnected a power supply to the data centre in an “uncontrolled and uncommanded fashion”.

The meltdown was blamed by some on aggressive cost-cutting and outsourcing of jobs.

Simon Calder, travel correspondent at The Independent, is in Qatar and is due to fly home overnight with BA.

He said: “British Airways, along with every other UK airline, invests a huge amount in safety and has an outstanding safety record.

“But with yet another weekend’s flying severely damaged by what BA calls ‘systems disruption’, the airline evidently has a pressing need to invest in IT.

“At a time when British Airways is still losing money at a prodigious rate, it can hardly afford to pay out tens of millions of pounds in recompense for its technical shortcomings. But that is exactly what the airline faces.

“Longer term, the reputational damage is rising with every cancellation. I calculate 1,500 passengers got up very early this morning to fly on British Airways from Heathrow to Geneva – and the same number waiting at the Swiss airport to come home. As with the thousands who have lost trips to Italy, the Canary Islands and beyond, they are unlikely to forget this weekend in a hurry.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “Ongoing technical issues don’t fill consumers with much confidence.

“Many people have saved up during lockdown to get away at the first opportunity and some are now finding that computers, not Covid, are preventing their getaway.

“BA needs to be transparent on what’s causing these issues and how soon they will be fixed.”