People talk to airport staff inside Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport as IT problems caused delays in London, Britain August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Disruption hits British Airways passengers at Heathrow after IT problems caused flight delays on Wednesday © Reuters

British Airways said it had resolved an IT failure at three London airports that caused dozens of flights to be cancelled or delayed on Wednesday.

The airline apologised to passengers caught up in the disruption at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City, and said nine hours after the trouble began that flights were returning to normal.

However, BA said there may be some “knock-on operational disruption” and advised passengers to check its website for the latest flight information before travelling.

BA did not say how many flights had been cancelled at Heathrow or Gatwick, but no flights were cancelled from London City.

The disruption was caused following issues that forced the airline to use a manual back-up system at check-in to keep its flights operating.

The BBC reported that at least 117 BA flights had been cancelled at Heathrow and 10 at Gatwick, while 200 had been delayed across the three airports.

Even though not all short-haul flights were affected, passengers flying short haul from all three airports were offered the opportunity to rebook to another day, while customers whose flights had been cancelled were offered a refund or other rebooking options.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10355850h) Passengers wait in the departures lounge at Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, in London, Britain, 07 August 2019. Hundreds of passengers were stranded after IT failures caused at least 81 British Airways flights to be cancelled, with over 200 delayed, according to reports. Technical failure leads to dozens of British Airways flight cancellations, delays, London, United Kingdom - 07 Aug 2019
Passengers wait in the departures lounge at Heathrow's Terminal 5 © NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Daryl Roots, who works in construction and was due to fly to a meeting in Glasgow on Wednesday morning from Gatwick, said all the passengers had boarded the plane following an incident-free check-in. But after an hour of sitting on the aircraft it still had not taken off as the pilot could not obtain information from the passenger log, according to Mr Roots.

He was then informed by email that his return flight from Glasgow had been cancelled. “The cabin crew were helpful,” he said, but he was unable to select an alternative return flight as the BA app kept crashing.

He was then informed by email that an alternative flight had been automatically rebooked, but since it arrived at a different London airport — “my car is parked at Gatwick” — he decided to disembark along with some other passengers.

Customers at UK airports also took to social media to complain about long queues, delays and the BA app crashing.

Michael Frayne tweeted: “@British_Airways landed in London after 4 hour delay on tarmac & now we are sent the wrong way after missing connection & told you have closed the rebook department and we have to do it ourselves. #Bestairlineintheworld. I think NOT. #CustomerService is terrible. #BritishAirways.”

The problems on Wednesday have, for some, raised further questions over whether BA’s IT systems, and those at other airlines, are up to standard.

Paul Farrington, the chief technology officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at US-based security software company Veracode, said that for this glitch to happen so soon after BA received a £183m fine for a data breach last year, “it seems like the airline is not acting swiftly enough to resolve its software issues”.

He added that IT issues were also affecting the wider airline industry. But while airlines had a duty to keep the planes in the air and passengers safe — and the majority of investment went into that — recent outages showed that investment should also go into updating the technology used on the ground, he said.

This is the third IT incident for BA in less than three years. In addition to the data breach last year, when hackers stole details of more than 500,000 customers, tens of thousands of passengers were stranded in May 2017 when a global IT failure forced the airline to cancel 726 flights over three days and left at least 75,000 passengers stranded.

Despite the problems, shares in IAG, BA’s parent, closed up about 2.4 per cent, at 457p.

Meanwhile Ryanair’s UK-based pilots on Wednesday set strike dates for August 22 and 23 and September 2, 3 and 4 after voting in favour of industrial action in a dispute over a number of issues, including pensions and a fair pay structure.

According to the British Airline Pilots Association, the union, pilots voted 80 per cent in favour of walkouts on a 72 per cent turnout. The airline said that less than 50 per cent of its UK pilots were members of the union.

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