British Airways warned families they face half-term travel chaos today after it cancelled scores of flights yesterday from Heathrow and Gatwick following a ‘catastrophic’ computer crash.
Families trying to get away for the Bank Holiday were caught up in the chaos, with the knock-on effect spreading mayhem around the globe.
Nearly 300 flights were cancelled worldwide, affecting tens of thousands of passengers.
Furious passengers in the UK, United States, Rome, Lisbon, Milan, Stockholm and Malaga were among those forced to sit in aircraft stranded on the tarmac for hours.
Others told of confusion at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 as they were stuck in massive queues after being unable to check in online – with many missing those flights that did depart earlier in the day. –
As the congestion grew, BA warned passengers to stay away from Heathrow and Gatwick, eventually having to cancel all flights until midnight last night.
BA apps and parts of its website were not working for several hours. Staff were forced to write the limited flight information they had on white boards after digital systems and tannoys failed.
Travel experts said BA had suffered a ‘massive, unprecedented system outage’ that would have ‘a huge knock-on effect for passengers for days to come’.
The flag carrier apologised for the meltdown, though it denied speculation of a cyber attack, instead blaming a ‘power supply issue’. However, IT experts criticised the airline’s computer system, which has crashed worldwide several times since it was updated last year.
Brian Lord, a former GCHQ director and managing director of computer security firm PGI Cyber, said: ‘This is the sixth time BA’s systems have gone down and suggests they are vulnerable to hackers in a way similar to the NHS.
‘It might be a computer glitch this time but you’d expect a multi-national operating a 24-hour service to be a lot more robust than this. People will be worried that if something like this can happen then what else is possible? Will planes start dropping out of the sky?’
By late afternoon yesterday, Terminal 5, one of BA’s main hubs, was crowded with stranded passengers. Heathrow staff handed out bottles of water as travellers waited in vain for announcements from BA.
In one part of the huge terminal, hundreds of bags that could not be put on to planes were cordoned off and guarded by staff.
Nabil Assaf, 50, from Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, who was due to fly out with his wife and two small children for a holiday in Beirut, said: ‘It’s total chaos. We have been here for hours and there hasn’t been a single announcement.
‘We queued up for about two hours to sort out our bags and just before we got to the counter it closed. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially for the kids as it’s their big holiday and it’s been ruined.
‘We’ve been looking forward to it for ages. We’ve been planning it for six months’.
Another father, who did not want to be named, said he was due to fly from Heathrow to Krakow in Poland with his family for a four- night holiday.
‘It wouldn’t be that bad if we were told something, but no one had told us anything.
Phil Davies, who writes for Travel Weekly, spoke to The Mail on Sunday at Gatwick while held on the tarmac for five hours en-route to Barbados with his family. ‘This is a logistical nightmare for BA,’ he said. ‘Not only has the airline got to deal with the people who can’t fly today, but their planes will be in the wrong places all over the world for the next few days.
‘The compensation bill for the airline will be huge – they will have to pay each person on a long-haul flight €600 [£525]. Plus, there will be bills to find accommodation.’
Yesterday evening, some passengers hoping to travel today were able to check in online. BA said: ‘We’re working hard to get anyone due to fly on Saturday on to the next available flights. Those unable to fly will be offered a full refund.’ – Mailonline – -You can follow AsiaJack on Facebook & Twitter. Email tips and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org