Business World

Wednesday 13 December 2017

IAG chief Willie Walsh breaks silence to defend British Airway's response to outage

Willie Walsh
Willie Walsh

Holly Williams

Airline boss Willie Walsh has apologised to British Airways customers, five days after an IT shutdown left 75,000 bank holiday travellers stranded.

Mr Walsh, chief executive of BA owner International Airlines Group (IAG), broke his silence to heap praise on airline staff and chief executive Alex Cruz for the way they handled the fiasco.

It came amid reports that BA is preparing to demand an independent inquiry into the problem, which experts believe may leave the company with a compensation bill of as much as £100m.

Mr Walsh said the cause of the problem had been identified, and that efforts were being made to appease customers.

He told the BBC: "I'm pleased that British Airways has been able to recover from the significant disruption that they faced on Saturday.

"I think the team at British Airways, under the leadership of Alex Cruz, has done everything possible to get British Airways back flying a full schedule as quickly as possible. We clearly apologise to any of our customers who were disrupted.

"We know the cause of the problem - it was not an IT failure, it was a problem caused by the failure of electrical power to our IT systems.

"We understand what happened, we're still investigating why it happened and that investigation will take some time.

"But I think the team at British Airways did everything they could in the circumstances to recover the operation as quickly as they did and our focus will be on making sure that any of our customers who experienced disruption are managed and satisfied with how we handled things.

"Clearly we will do everything we can to make up (for) the disruption they suffered."

The airline said the power surge caused physical damage to servers at its data centre, Boadicea House, near Heathrow.

But mystery surrounds the cause of the power surge, with National Grid and local energy providers saying there had been no supply issues on Saturday.

BA's board is now pushing for an investigation by professional outside experts into what happened and why back-up systems also failed, according to the BBC.

It is also understood that BA's response to the crisis would come under the scope of the investigation.

Around 75,000 passengers faced disruption as flights were cancelled following the incident on Saturday morning.

The carrier was unable to resume a full schedule until Tuesday and many passengers who had already checked in when the issue emerged are still waiting to be reunited with their luggage.

BA was accused of greed after the GMB union suggested the issue could have been prevented if the airline had not cut "hundreds of dedicated and loyal" IT staff and contracted the work to India last year.

Mr Cruz said the outsourcing of jobs was not to blame for the "catastrophic" power failure.

The cause of the initial power outage and the subsequent surge has not yet been revealed.

A spokesman for National Grid said it had "no system issues on Saturday morning" and energy provider SSE, which runs the network in west London, said its systems were also "operating as normal" on Saturday.

BA said: "We are undertaking an exhaustive investigation to find out the exact circumstances and most importantly ensure that this can never happen again."

But it declined to comment on boardroom plans for an independent inquiry.

BA owner IAG saw shares initially fall by around 4% in the first day of trading in London after the outage occurred.

On Saturday, travellers spent the night sleeping on yoga mats spread on terminal floors after BA cancelled all flights leaving Heathrow and Gatwick.

Press Association

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