, London, United Kingdom, May 27 – British Airways cancelled all its flights out of major London airports Heathrow and Gatwick on Saturday after a computer systems failure, causing chaos for thousands of passengers on a busy holiday weekend.
“We have experienced a major IT system failure that is causing very severe disruption to our flight operations worldwide,” BA said.
BA flights out of Heathrow and Gatwick were initially cancelled until 6.00 pm (1700 GMT) but the airline later said there would be no flights for the rest of the day.
The breakdown took out all of the carrier’s check-in and operational systems and affected call centres and its website, but did not appear to be a cyber attack, according to a video statement by chairman and chief executive Alex Cruz.
Britain is still recovering from a ransomware attack that crippled crucial infrastructure earlier this month.
“We believe the root cause was a power supply issue,” said Cruz, adding that IT teams were working “tirelessly” to fix the problems.
“We will make arrangements to get customers on their way as soon as we possibly can.”
Full refunds will be given to customers who decide they no longer wish to travel, Cruz said.
The airline said it was battling to operate long-haul inbound flights late Saturday to land in London on Sunday.
The outage comes on a busy weekend in Britain, where Monday is a public holiday and many schoolchildren are beginning their half-term break.
BA warned people not to come to the “extremely congested” airports. An AFP photographer at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 said many travellers were waiting outside the departure area with their luggage in “chaotic” scenes.
They were not being allowed inside the terminal for health and safety reasons, prompting some of them to leave in taxis.
– ‘Calm despite chaos’ –
Travellers wrote on Twitter that they were unable to check in or use the airline’s app, while others said they had been left stranded on the tarmac.
“None of your staff know what the heck is going on. Nor do your passengers. Can we have some info please? Chaos here,” tweeted Chris Ship, Royal Editor for ITV News, to BA.
One passenger, Julie Adie, wrote that she had been stuck on the runway for an hour without an offer of drinks.
Another Twitter user called Jo described the situation as a “terrorist’s dream”, writing that “people getting off plane with/without luggage. Some staying on”.
Dan Abrams wrote that it had taken him three hours just to leave Heathrow’s Terminal 5, adding that there was “total mayhem here. No supervision”.
BA said they were working to restore services from Sunday, but warned that some delays and disruption could continue.
Delays were reported in other European cities including Rome, Prague, Milan, Stockholm and Malaga.
Inside Heathrow’s Terminal 5, Luke Hallard wrote that “everyone remarkably calm despite British Airways chaos, but wait until the lounge runs out of booze”.
Some travellers said they were not informed that their flights had been cancelled until more than an hour after the airline told the media.
“We were told (it would be) about three hours for collecting bags, that all compensation will have to be done online, and that we are unable to rebook flights now because of the system being down,” student Emily Wilson told the Press Association.
The carrier said it was “extremely sorry” for causing inconvenience over the holiday period.
The airline has suffered other IT glitches recently, leading to severe delays for passengers in July and September last year.