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BA IT crash: is outsourcing to blame?

BRITISH AIRWAYS (BA) has given up all hope of running any flights today, Saturday, as its global operation was halted by a computer failure. The failure grounded all flights as well as freezing the app passengers usually use to book in and manage their flights and the BA website.

BA flights were not able to take off, but ancillary functions were also affected. Baggage could not be tracked and passengers could not be checked in or issued with boarding passes. BA aeroplanes at Heathrow were unable to leave, so they could not be moved to make way for incoming craft – which could land, but were then sat on runways, with passengers unable to disembark and complaining on social media about a lack of information from BA.

The computer breakdown meant that passengers could not be transferred to flights provided by other airlines, as the passengers could not be tracked and arrangements recorded. Experts expressed surprise that BA appeared not to have any alternative system or even back-up plans to cope with a situation like this.

The problem occurred on the Saturday of a bank holiday weekend which was also the first day of half term for many families. Travellers were left sitting on planes or waiting at airports, not knowing when – or if – they would get on holiday. BA has pledged to offer customers a seat on a later flight (once they get going again) or a rull refund.

However, the GMB union which counts many BA workers among its members, criticised BA for outsourcing its IT operation to a third party company. The union said that thousands of experienced staff had been sacked when BA chose a company based in India to run its IT functions. If the work had been placed with a UK firm, these experienced staff would have been retained. Because the work went outside the UK, BA was unable to test out the level of expertise of the new set of workers.

Mick Rix, GMB National Officer for the union’s aviation sector, said, “This could have all been avoided. BA in 2016 made hundreds of dedicated and loyal IT staff redundant and outsourced the work to India… many viewed the company’s actions as just plain greedy.”

BA denied that the outsourcing was an issue, claiming that it would not compromise its IT standards by engaging a below standard operator. However, a formal statement from the company said that there was no evidence that the problems were due to a malicious cyber attack and it could not suggest how the global outage had happened – which doesn’t let the IT provider off the hook yet.

There is as yet no indication of when BA will get its IT system running safely again. Given the time that has so far gone by, crew members who were ready to staff aeroplanes which have not taken off will have to take statutory rest periods before they can fly – so even once the IT problem is solved, it will still take a long time to get the airline running again.

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