British Airways

British Airways – so much fail, I’m almost impressed

Ben Roberts

02 Jun 2017

No doubt you’ve all seen – or worse, been impacted by – the shocker that British Airways (BA) had over the Bank Holiday, with critical IT systems causing its entire flight operations to be grounded. Where did it all go wrong? From what the media has uncovered, pretty much at every stage. Let’s look at how events unfolded and how BA's lack of control over its communications cost it dear.

Playing catch-up from the off

When the outage was first reported, BA was already on the back foot, as the Beeb noted passengers had been “criticising BA for a lack of information,” with one passenger saying: “The lack of communication all day was woeful. There wasn't a single Tannoy announcement all day in the terminal, not a single member of staff came up to us.” While staff on the ground dealing with the incident can be forgiven for not having every fact at hand, it is disappointing this basic level of communication and customer service seems to have been ignored. It’s vital that staff are trained and prepared to react to such crises to help BA be seen as in control of the situation.

Responsibility and care

It can’t be denied that having an Economist writer caught up in the chaos was bad luck, but their account of their journey to Berlin was revealing. When BA should have rallied the troops and pulled out all the stops to help customers, it's clear that most passengers were left to their own devices. Why? As the Buttonwood columnist explains: “The whole experience was alarming. The BA staff clearly were as poorly informed as the passengers; no one in management had taken control.” The lack of management control is of particular concern. In fact, the poor response to the incident and the questionable leadership led the FT’s management editor, Andrew Hill, to post the column, “BA lacks the leaders and the resources to tackle a crisis” Ouch.

The dust just won’t settle

With BA getting back into the rhythm of flights and serving its passengers, one might hope that a message of responsibility, accountability and control had been communicated. Well, as the analysis pieces roll in, it’s not even clear what caused the outage. As the Guardian noted, after reports claimed that a maintenance worker inadvertently switched off the power, the BA’s contractor, CBRE, denied that human error was to blame. What is going on here? Why isn’t there a clear, joined up story that explains the incident from both BA and CBRE?

Plan, control and communicate

That’s a whistle-stop tour of some of the week’s coverage, which includes big hitting journalists and media laying into BA. It could have been so different. Imagine if crisis scenarios had been developed across staff and executives; imagine if management had a credible message of control and honesty; imagine if the contractor and BA has communicated together. The coverage wouldn’t have showered BA in praise, but it wouldn’t lead the FT to publish to knockout pieces in the same day, one damning the CEO and the other its customer service.