British Airways’ (another) IT Meltdown and my nightmare at Heathrow T5

I count myself lucky as a frequent traveller and flyer. Over more than one decade of zealous flying around the world and I’ve only experienced one severe delay in 2018 when I was due to fly from Frankfurt to Doha with Royal Jordanian – the flight was cancelled and I was rebooked to Qatar Airways’ Qsuite the next day, so it was sort of a win for me in the end. Thanks to BA my lucky streak has come to and end.

To give you some context: I bought a Finnair business class ticket during their “flash sale” earlier this year, and was going to fly CDG-HEL-JFK on Friday. I bought a separate BA ticket on Thursday to connect to Paris from Heathrow.

T5 was not busy at all and it took no time before I arrived at the Galleries North Lounge two hours before my departure. Having scanned my boarding pass, the agent just kept stared at the screen. While I was getting puzzled, he finally got back to me, saying that my flight’s cancelled and I needed to visit the customer desk at gate A10!

I wasn’t expecting it at all, as the flight was still shown as normal in BA’s app. I didn’t want to waste any time though so went straight to gate A10 as instructed, only to be told by another agent to go to A21 instead and there was no further explanation.

Again, at A21 there’s no signage or staff but a big queue. Someone from the queue told me they all had cancellations, and they were told to exit the airport via here and seek help. I joined the queue.

The line was barely moving. After about 20 minutes one BA staff finally realised what’s going on, and shouted that we could just go out by ourselves without the need to queue. I followed the crowd, went downstairs and proceeded to exit.

As you might have expected, exiting the airport meant immigration and thus border control. One can only imagine how bad the queues (this time for real) were – some were victims like me, others were arriving passengers who had no clue why there were suddenly an influx of desperate people!

Then I arrived at the baggage claim area, still had not the faintest idea what was happening. Some people were lining up in front of BA’s baggage desk so I did it as well, but they were just as clueless as me. Suddenly a few people wearing BA’s uniform turned up and I clutched at a straw, hoping to figure out what was going on.

From their language, as well as some fragmented information I’d gathered from different conversations, I finally had some picture: BA’s having yet another major IT meltdown. All short-haul flights (at least 50 / 60) that evening were cancelled. They couldn’t track any check-in baggage either, arriving or departing, and all passengers were advised to leave the airport and wait for further notices.

A lady next to me was very emotional – she flew in from US and was connecting to Geneva. She’s now trapped in London without her luggage. Luckily I didn’t have any check-in baggage, but I must get over to Paris!!

Knowing that BA’s not a safe bet I tried to make other travel arrangement. Unfortunately according to Skyscanner and Eurostar no flight or train could possibly bring me to Paris in time. I phoned Finnair to see if there’s anything they could do, but as it would be a voluntary change fees were extortionate.

Back to the departure hall I decided to have another go, and more than two hours have passed already. A lady at the Club Europe check-in desk listened to my story and called the ticketing team to see if they could help. However it never went through, and according to her as the IT system was down the ticketing team wouldn’t be able to rebook anyway.

Given the situation and the futile efforts that I’d already made, I came to terms with my fate and just went home. The next morning I called BA’s Silver line, only to be told they couldn’t offer anything beyond rebooking or cancelling my flight to Paris, as the Finnair flight wasn’t booked on BA’s website. My only option at this point was to abandon my trip.

British Airways’ incompetence has struck me hard this time, and I’m feeling a bit disgusted. The whole incident was a joke and total chaos, and you’d think that BA would have learnt better after the numerous similar incidents they’ve had in recent years. I was given little and false information from the very beginning, and no one from BA actively offered information or help. Passengers, and in this case also victims, shouldn’t be left alone to deal with such ordeal.

It is at least the third time in the last four years or so that BA has a major IT meltdown. I remember very clearly that I had a near-miss last time as my trip was off by a day or two. BA offered status extension to all affected passengers and I regretted having missed out on the opportunity – well I jinxed myself…

From what I understand, I have the following recourses:

  • I can claim £220 statutory compensation from BA thanks to EC261
  • I will submit a complaint to BA and see if they offer anything extra
  • Amex Platinum’s travel insurance will cover all my non-refundable expenses, as the flight was delayed for more than 12 hours (6 hours if trip is shorter than 5 days)

I will report back if there’s progress.

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2 Responses

  1. Jules says:

    A complete nightmare situation indeed. BA never seems to learn and I expect continued IT failures from them. LHR is also a terrible airport and I avoid it whenever possible. So what did you about your Finnair business class ticket? Was it booked on points or with cash?

    • Kai says:

      I booked with cash. Cancelled it and got ~120 euro refund (surprisingly). I will claim the rest with Amex Plat insurance.