You would have to be hiding from the media for the last two days if you have failed to read about the issues that British Airways are having with their IT systems. This resulted in an almost total cancellation of the schedule on Saturday and chaos today.
Unsurprisingly, given that this is the start of the half term holiday where many families and children are travelling in addition to the normal traffic, there has been a lot of bad publicity and press surrounding the situation.
As regular readers will no doubt be surprised to hear, I am making my usual trip to the south of France for May half term. As it is the end of the Cannes Film Festival, and the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix, flights to Nice are always really expensive. We were lucky that we could use a 2for1 voucher and Avios to book seats in Club Europe, flying at a reasonable time on Sunday morning, back later in the week. When I saw the disruption on Saturday I was relieved that we were not meant to be travelling, and hopeful that situation would be sorted in time.
We left for the airport this morning having seen the earlier flight cancelled but our flight showing on time. When we arrived, the departure area of coming five was busier than I have ever seen it before. Thankfully I am in possession of a Gold Card and was therefore able to use The First Wing – it was not this quiet today!
When we tried to go through to security we were told that our flight had been cancelled and to rebook with the ticketing agents who were situated in The First Wing. We joined a very slow-moving queue and were there for over two hours before we were seen. I think that there were only about eight people in front of us but it was a very slow and the laborious process.
At one point, some back office people came out wearing Customer Response Team gillets wielding iPads. The three of them confidently told us they would help to rebook us but, unsurprisingly, the IT system wouldn’t allow it.
When we got to the desk, the agent first suggested that we look for alternatives to Paris, but given that is nowhere near Nice, we declined her offer and asked her to look for flights to the Côte d’Azur. After a little bit of work she booked us onto a flight for tomorrow, and then onto a standby ticket for a lunchtime flight today.
With low expectations, we went through to the lounge and reported to the Guest Services desk who took our boarding passes and promised to call us if things changed. We then went for breakfast and a Bucks Fizz – you have to in these situations! After about an hour we were called back and told that not only did we have seats on the plane that was leaving at 1130, but that we are also going to be in Club Europe!
We went to the gate and joined the usual scrum of people getting in the way. Priority boarding was called but not enforced so we could not get to the front and we behind bronze card holders in economy. Whilst I don’t mean to come across as a diva, it really bugs me when this happens – what is the point of having priority boarding if you are going to let anyone on board first?!
The flight was uneventful; the highlight was the Captain apologising for the mess saying that it was “not British Airways’ finest hour”. The lowlight was the food – I was grateful to have a hot meal, but given that one option was a chicken salad, I went with the mozzarella and tomato panini. It is hardly business class standard! However, a gin and tonic and a cup of coffee went down well.
We landed in Nice and thanks to being hand luggage only, we were out to our waiting family less than 10 minutes after landing and less than three hours after our scheduled arrival.
We were lucky. We got to our destination and I have been able to write this by the pool. At Heathrow, there were thousands of people lining up in queues that were probably moving even slower than our and who have not reached their destination, missing important events, special holidays and seeing loved ones.
As a result of my journey today I have 5 thoughts on how BA could have handled the situation better:
- Be better at communicating what is happening – It would also have cost nothing to have better communication for the people in the queues to let them know what was happening and not to tell people to rebook via a website or phone line that wasn’t able to cope. I overheard that 60,000 people had flights cancelled on Saturday alone – so I know they are under pressure but it is the little things that make the difference.
- Provide some sort of gesture to the people standing in the queues – We had the haven of the lounge to get something to eat and drink, but it would have been a huge publicity win if British Airways had had someone serving some tea and coffee – it would have cost them next to nothing but made our 2 hour wait in the queue nicer.
- Follow procedures that you have put in place – priority boarding is an example of this! Don’t add to the stress of staff and passengers who will get annoyed when expectations are not met – manage those expectations.
- Allow staff on the ground to make decisions based on what they see – at one point this morning, 2 of the 15 desks in The First Wing were being used for rebooking and the other 13 for check in, yet there was a massive queue for rebooking and agents sat doing nothing at check in. It does not take a genius to know what to do, but that is only something that someone there would think about – so let the people do it! We had an agent who had to decide to do something, call up the office, ask the duty manager and then call the office again to allow her to open up another ticketing desk.
- Use this as an opportunity to think forward – there are videos of Alex Cruz telling people that he is sorry for the issues and that they are going to fix it and find out what the problem is so it doesn’t happen again. Fine. All to the good. But he should also be making sure that all other areas of the airline are also being stress-tested to ensure that if there is another catastrophic failure in some unrelated area that they can deal with it.