THE HELL OF HEATHROW
On the morning of 27 May, complete chaos ensued after a computer system failure at Heathrow airport. This affected primarily British Airways (BA), who, let's be honest, have not been doing themselves any favours over the last year or so. There are three instances that spring immediately to mind.
1) A mouse was running around a plane, which a lot of people found quite humourous and were making jokes about it, which is good, but when it comes down to it, rodents should not be loose on aircraft.
2) A man went on one of their flights and suffered severe bites from the seat he was in. It was apparently covered in bed bugs.
3) A prominent NBC journalist lost his luggage on a trip back from the Rio Olympics and had to wait at least a week to get it back. When he asked BA where his luggage was he was told to talk to a different airline he also flew with.
4) At the time of writing this, another prominent journalist was flying to New York and ended up landing in Boston. He said he wasn't too worried and it wasn't BA's fault, but it doesn't change the fact that he didn't land where he was supposed to.
Which leads us back to the situation on 27 May. I went to the airport and went into Terminal 3. What I saw amounted to a refugee camp. People were on the floor with camping mats and blankets. Which is at least something. The people in terminal 5 where I went an hour later didn't even get that. I arrived at about 9pm. A lot of them had been there since 9am the same day. Twelve hours
I interviewed two girls who were trying to get to Miami and had been at the airport since 6am. They asked if they could get on an American Airlines flight instead only to be told this wasn't possible. At 10.40. they were told they wouldn't be going anywhere. They asked BA staff for more information, but no-one would tell them anything. They again asked American Airlines for help and were refused. They had to queue to get their luggage back. Some people didn't even get their bags back. They were given no food, water, or anything else. They were told to try and find their own hotels, some of whom were charging £2,000 a night! They tried for a third time to get American Airlines to help them and were told, according to these two lovely people, that BA had actually told American Airlines not to help any of their BA customers! And they only just got blankets (at 10pm!). They said, "We are never, ever flying with BA EVER AGAIN!"
Then I met a young person trying to get to Kuwait with her friend. She arrived at 5pm to find out her flight to Kuwait was also cancelled. She managed to rebook a flight okay, but it didn't go until the following morning. Her only option was to get a hotel miles away from the airport where they would be cheaper.
There are lots of stories like this. The people in terminal 3 at least got camping mats and fluffy blankets, not that it was any consolation. I tried to get a statement from staff but they (not surprisingly) refused to comment.
I interviewed a man heading back to France. He said, after this, that he is never coming back to the UK. He said it was too expensive and his experience with BA has put him off completely.
This whole thing has been a complete and utter shambles. And BA should be ashamed of themselves. A computer system failure is no excuse for this appalling cock up.
My husband Don worked for a company whose business relies solely on computers. They would have regular contingency tests to ensure that if the main network went down there were always back-ups. And if something did fail, it would be a minor issue, easily corrected.
BA and airlines in general really need to have a contingency in place for major computer failures, so this kind of nonsense can never ever happen again. Of course, they would probably complain about how much it would be to instigate this. but compared to the compensation they are going to have to pay out from this incident, it's a very small price to pay.
The price of air fares is already ridiculous, which is putting a lot of people off travelling to start with, so they can certainly do without the hassle of being screwed over by a simple computer glitch.
I'm afraid BA are going to be dealing with the aftermath of this for quite a while. When all it would have taken would be a regular contingency to prevent this in the first place. Ridiculous.
I know one thing: I, along with I suspect most of the people sleeping at Heathrow, will no longer be flying with British Airways. As one passenger simply said to me: "NEVER AGAIN".