Wednesday, May 31, 2017

British Airways must learn lessons from flight chaos

Alex Cruz, the chief executive of British Airways, has said sorry a couple of times now for the mass of flight cancellations and delays that left thousands of passengers stranded in airport terminals, but it is going to take more than the word sorry to fix this mess. BA was once the pre-eminent brand of the British aviation industry ¬- or any industry; but now, after several days of disorganisation and miscommunication, its long-term reputation is under serious threat.

According to BA, the root cause of the breakdown was a problem with its power supply which affected the IT systems. But the real test of a company like BA, whose procedures and practices increasingly rely on automation, is how it copes in a crisis and BA has failed the test spectacularly.

The first question it must answer is why, when the power problem occurred, there was no effective back-up system in place. The company has ruled out a cyber attack, but it must also establish why the back-up, if it existed, failed. A company of the scale of BA with responsibility for thousands of passengers every day should have a disaster plan in place that can kick in when needed, but, again, the plan, if there was one, failed when it was needed.

The last few days have also been a spectacular failure of public relations. Part of the problem for United Airlines after one of its passengers was dragged off a flight last month was that it was slow to respond, explain and apologise, but BA appear not to have been watching. As the chaos grew, no one from BA was made available to explain what was going on.

So far, BA has denied the problems have anything to do with cost-cutting or the fact that IT systems have been outsourced to India, but, if public confidence is to be restored, BA will have to take a serious look at this question as part of a review of what went wrong.
30/05/17 The Herald