Heathrow Airport: Passengers stranded for days due to British Airways glitch

Technical issues continue to affect travellers as flights are cancelled or postponed

Long queues form at check-in at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport. Photo: Twitter
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Travellers at London's Heathrow Airport are continuing to be affected by long delays caused by a British Airways technical issue.

On Wednesday, the airline was forced to cancel and postpone flights, citing a technical problem.

Despite the airline saying the fault had affected its operations for “a short time” and was resolved shortly before 5.30pm, the vast majority of flights on the airline’s live tracker were shown as departing late or cancelled.

On Thursday, many frustrated passengers continued to use social media to vent their frustration over the long delays.

The airline responded to complaints by saying it was dealing with “high call volumes".

“We’re sorry you’re still waiting and appreciate your patience,” it tweeted.

“Customer Relations haven’t forgotten about your case. They have very high volumes, which means they’re taking longer than they’d like to respond to you. They’re doing all they can to be in touch as soon as possible.”

One passenger currently stranded at Heathrow said it will be two days before she is provided with a new flight.

Michelle Heinrich, a student and translator from Germany who lives in Coventry, had been due to fly to Germany at 5.40pm on Wednesday. She said problems had started as early as 2.40pm when passengers tried to check in and drop bags off.

When the gate number was set to be announced, passengers were instead told the flight was delayed by two hours. That time came and went. At about 9pm, a gate number was finally announced. Then, as passengers waited to board, they were told the flight had been cancelled.

Ms Heinrich said there was “silence and confusion” among passengers.

“I’m stranded at Heathrow with no accommodation and a flight two days away. I’ve been given a food voucher but I’m not sure what’s going to happen today,” Ms Heinrich said.

“It’s another day and night before I can fly. British Airways have not been communicating with us.”

She added that the only communication from the airline had come half an hour after her flight was cancelled — to say the flight was not going ahead.

The airline has apologised for the issue and said it “deeply regretted” being forced to cancel flights on Wednesday evening.

Disruption caused by British Airways’ repeated IT meltdowns is being exacerbated by staff shortages, an industry expert claimed.

Aviation consultant John Strickland, of JLS Consulting, said the airline is left “floundering” when it faces problems such as those at Heathrow on Wednesday.

Mr Strickland said: “They seem to have staff shortage issues coming out of the pandemic, and I know definitely that’s something which is going to be more widespread with airlines because of the number of people who were let go.

“With what happened (on Wednesday), maybe if that extra issue wasn’t there in the background, maybe less flights would have been delayed or ultimately cancelled.

“Once the dominoes start to fall, if your manpower is not up to proper planned establishment then you’re really floundering even more.”

He said the carrier is “in the process” of improving its IT systems, but “you just can’t click your fingers and have it all change overnight”.

The carrier has suffered several IT failures in recent years.

Mr Strickland said these give the impression that “they aren’t in control of their IT and they are worse” than their rivals, whereas the “reality” is that other legacy carriers such as Air France and KLM have “largely similar arcane systems that date back decades”.

He explained that low-cost carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair are “better placed” because their systems are more modern due be them being younger companies, and they have simpler operations without multiple cabin classes or a sizeable proportion of passengers taking connecting flights.

Decades of flight from Heathrow - in pictures

Milena Franke, a student from Germany who is currently doing her Erasmus year abroad in Aberdeen, said she was delayed for hours trying to fly from Heathrow to Aberdeen.

“I‘ve been travelling from Germany to London Heathrow today with the initial plan of travelling further to Aberdeen,” she said.

“However, after landing in Heathrow around 9am, my flight to Aberdeen got cancelled right before I was supposed to walk to my gate.

“As I didn‘t know who to approach directly, I spent most of my time waiting for someone from the BA customer service hoping to receive further details but not a single person offered help.

“Instead, I got advised to rebook my flight and select the next one leaving in the evening. However, this flight also got cancelled. It has been a terrifying experience, eventually resulting in the fact that I am now staying in a hotel with a slight hope of finally getting to travel tomorrow.”

In late February, the airline was forced to cancel all short-haul flights from Heathrow for several hours due to a hardware problem.

The trouble for Heathrow and BA is the latest in a string of technical problems that have caused patience-busting queues, cancellations and delays.

“A technical issue which affected British Airways this afternoon has now been resolved,” Heathrow Airport said.

“We’re working with our airport partners to assist passengers whose journeys have been disrupted and have deployed additional resource in our terminals.

“Passengers are still advised to check their flight status with British Airways before travelling to the airport due to a number of resulting cancellations.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Updated: March 31, 2022, 1:21 PM