British Airways CEO will not resign despite ‘catastrophic’ IT failure
The Guardian, 30 May 2017
British Airways’ chief executive says he will not resign despite a “catastrophic” IT system failure that grounded scores of flights and led to cancellations and delays for 75,000 passengers over the bank holiday weekend. Alex Cruz said on Monday he was “profusely apologetic” for the computing glitch, which caused havoc at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, stranding passengers including many families on half-term breaks.
But he said the computing failure had nothing to do with the cost savings he had implemented since arriving at the airline as CEO last year and he rejected suggestions from the GMB union that outsourcing of IT roles to India had left the company vulnerable to system meltdowns.
Flights largely returned to normal on Monday, as services from Gatwick and long-haul flights from Heathrow resumed a normal service. About 90% of short-haul flights were also operating from Heathrow, Cruz said.
But the airline was still working through a backlog of passengers stranded by the weekend’s cancellations. “We’ve made some progress with passengers affected from Saturday and Sunday … Just over two-thirds of those affected will make it to their final destination by the end of the day,” he told Sky News. “The rest are being given the option to rebook their flights for any time over the next six months.
“We do apologise profusely for the hardship that customers of ours have had to go through. We know there have been holidays interrupted and personal events that have been interrupted and people waiting in queues for a really long time.”
Cruz described the impact of the disruption on honeymoons and long-planned family holidays as a tragedy and pledged that the airline would follow all applicable compensation rules.
Passengers described total chaos that unfolded at Heathrow after the systems crashed.
Rose Drury, a childcare assistant, said Terminal 5 was “like a moshpit” on Saturday as flights were cancelled en masse and passengers struggled to leave the airport.
Staff resorted to standing on benches and shouting instructions at travellers. Dr Philip Abraham, a university teacher, told the Guardian Heathrow airport was “honestly the angriest place I’ve ever been” as passengers queued for hours with next to no information from staff.
Stranded passengers spent Saturday night sleeping on yoga mats on the floors of terminals after BA cancelled all flights leaving London hubs. Some travellers also slept in terminals on Sunday as dozens more services from Heathrow were cancelled. Hundreds of passengers flooded King’s Cross station in London attempting to board trains north instead of flying. BA services around the world were also affected, leaving passengers stuck overseas.
Baggage handling systems were also affected: some passengers who did manage to get on the small number of flights to take off from the UK reported reaching their destinations without their luggage. Others checked in before they discovered their flights were cancelled and were unable to extract their luggage from the system before returning home.
“We are working to reunite all our customers with their bags,” said a BA spokeswoman.
BA is facing a significant compensation bill, with some estimating it could top £100m. Cruz told Sky News: “We absolutely are committed to provide and abide by the compensation rules that are currently in place.”
The worldwide IT meltdown was caused by a power surge at about 9.30am on Saturday that had a “catastrophic effect” on the airline’s communication hardware, “which eventually affected all the messaging across our systems,” Cruz said.
He told the BBC this had affected “all the operating of our systems – baggage, operations, power processing.” Backup systems that should have kicked in also failed, he said, adding that there was no evidence of a cyber-attack and “there has been no corruption or any compromise of any customer data.”
Cruz said BA was conducting an exhaustive investigation and would share the results. “We will make sure that nothing like this ever happens in British Airways again.”
He rebuffed a claim from the GMB that the situation had been worsened by the outsourcing of IT jobs to India. “I can confirm that all the parties involved around this particular event have not been involved in any type of outsourcing in any foreign country. They have all been local issues around a local data centre who has been managed and fixed by local resources,” he said.
But Mick Rix, GMB’s transportation lead, said Cruz was “talking out of his hat”, adding that five members of the equipment and facilities team based in the centre near Heathrow that houses the mainframes had been made redundant.
“We believe that the redundancies that have already taken place have led to a brain drain… [this] has led to issues like this taking place that cannot be resolved quickly,” Rix said.
Rix criticised BA’s management for its slow public response to the crisis. “Our members have had to bear the brunt of the passengers’ wrath, because the senior executives and staff went running for cover,” he said. Customer-facing staff were “obviously quite distressed at the way they are being left to pick up the pieces for the untold misery that’s being caused to passengers.”