British Airways rejects claims that cost-cutting India outsourcing was to blame for bank holiday weekend 'global IT outage'

Stuart Sumner
clock • 4 min read

BA blames power surge and failure to restore from back-ups for weekend of travel chaos at Gatwick and Heathrow

Claims that a cost-cutting IT outsourcing programme, which saw hundreds of roles outsourced to Tata in India, was behind the weekend of chaos at Gatwick and Heathrow airports have been rejected by British Airways CEO Alex Cruz.

BA check-in desks and luggage handling systems went down on Saturday morning, and stayed down for the rest of the day. The company was forced to cancel flights until at least 6pm on Saturday, while flights on Sunday and bank holiday Monday were also delayed.

Over the weekend, the GMB trade union implied that the company's outsourcing of tasks and roles to India, made in a bid to save money, was the cause of the IT meltdown. "This could have all been avoided. In 2016 BA made hundreds of dedicated and loyal IT staff redundant and outsourced the work to India," said the GMB's Mick Rix, who accused BA of being "just plain greedy".

It wasn't the first IT failure following the outsourcing. Just four months after the transfer, computers running check-in desks for BA also failed, leading to long queues at airports around the world.

However, Cruz attributed the chaos to a power surge at a BA data centre near Heathrow and the ensuing failure to restore services from its back-up systems. He also rejected early suggestions that the company had been subjected to a cyber attack.

But UK Power Networks, which supplies power to Heathrow, said that there had been no electrical issues in the area over the weekend. And, even if there were, the data centre ought to have been equipped to handle them.

Regardless of what is to blame, the cost of the bank holiday weekend outage is likely to be well in excess of £100m. Independent aviation analyst Howard Wheeldon even suggested that the bill could be close to £250m, when compensation claims are taken into account.  

British Airways was forced to cancel all flights out of Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London on Saturday following what it described as a "global systems outage".

The airline had urged passengers with tickets for flights out of the two airports on Saturday not to turn up after it cancelled flights out of the two airports until 6pm on Saturday. However, the cancellations - and long delays - continued throughout the bank holiday weekend. 

"We have experienced a major IT system failure that is causing very severe disruption to our flight operations worldwide," a BA spokesperson admitted.

They continued: "The terminals at Heathrow and Gatwick have become extremely congested and we have cancelled all flights from Heathrow and Gatwick before 6pm UK time today, so please do not come to the airports.

"We will provide more information on ba.com, Twitter and through airport communication channels as soon as we can for flights due to depart after that time.

"We will be updating the situation via the media regularly throughout the day.

"We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience this is causing our customers and we are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible."

Parts of the airlines website, and its travel app also went down at the same time - indicating a wide-ranging IT failure.

The carrier tweeted its apologies to customers.

The exact cause of the outage still remains unclear. At the time, some ground staff and a pilot at BA even told passengers that the airline was under attack from hackers.

 

More sobre commentators suggested that it could simply be a coding glitch.

Bill Curtis, senior vice president and chief scientist at CAST, said: "Airline computers juggle multiple systems that must interact to control gate, reservations, ticketing and frequent fliers. Each of those pieces may have been written separately by different companies. Even if an airline has backup systems, the software running those likely has the same coding flaw.

"Tracking down a software flaw can be very difficult. It's like investigating crime; there is a lot of data they've got to sift through to figure out what actually happened." 

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