More than 75,000 people were affected by the airline’s computer outage over the bank holiday weekend, with compensation expected to cost more than £100m
Passengers stranded at Heathrow over the bank holiday weekend. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
British Airways is still struggling to return baggage to passengers as it attempts to salvage its battered reputation and investigate the cause of a computer system outage that left 75,000 people stranded at the weekend.
Cancelled holidays and chaotic scenes at Heathrow and Gatwick airports over the bank holiday weekend have been followed by reports of passengers’ baggage being forwarded to destinations abroad while its owners were unable to travel.
The airline said it hoped most of a backlog of tens of thousands of bags would be delivered by the end of Wednesday. It also pledged to compensate all passengers, with the bill expected to reach more than £100m.
About £500m was wiped off the market value of BA’s owner, IAG, in early trading in London on Tuesday, although shares later recovered to 1.4% – cutting the value of the airline group by £170m.
BA said it was still investigating a power issue that it says caused the check-in and operating systems to crash, and left the airline struggling to locate and contact even its own staff.
A spokeswoman for the airline insisted that the failure was “categorically nothing to do” with outsourcing.
However, the initial explanation for the computer chaos provided by BA’s chief executive, Alex Cruz, provoked further confusion. Cruz had blamed a power surge for knocking out the system but IT specialists queried whether a power surge could cause such failure, while local electricity providers said they had no evidence that a surge had taken place. SSE said its network was operating as normal in the Harmondsworth area – the location of BA’s headquarters – on Saturday morning.
James Wilman, chief executive of the data centre consultancy Future-tech, said: “It’s either bad design or there’s more to the story than just a power surge. You have something specifically that you build in to a data centre called surge protection, which is there to protect against exactly this [sort of] incident.”
BA insisted that the computer system outages that grounded hundreds of flights were not linked to ferocious cost-cutting and the outsourcing of work to contractors in its IT department. About 200 IT staff at BA are being made redundant.
But Mick Rix of the GMB union said a contractor was likely to be responsible: “Their procurement department is looking into it – which suggests they know exactly what the cause was and who is to blame.”
It emerged that Theresa May, as home secretary, was warned on several occasions last year of potential risks linked to outsourcing operations to India.
The GMB union wrote to May on four occasions to highlight a potential security risk, warning that potentially sensitive data could be handled offshore and that low-paid IT workers from Tata Consulting Services were being brought in on temporary work visas to replace BA staff.
Asked about the airport chaos at an election campaign press conference in Wolverhampton, May said: “The IT crisis that hit British Airways is predominantly a matter for British Airways.”
She added: “It’s up to them to sort their IT out and to ensure that they are able to provide the services that people expect them to provide as British Airways.”