It’s fair to say British Airways has hit a bit of turbulence in the last week.

The iconic British flag carrier experienced a major IT meltdown over the weekend, preventing planes from taking off and passengers from checking in.

As PR disasters go this is as bad as it gets. Estimates vary but the problem is expected to cost the airline £150m in compensation payments plus the reputational damage of seeing thousands of holidaymakers stranded in airport terminals.

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So what went wrong and what lessons can we learn?

The first thing to say is I’m not privy to the inner workings of BA’s IT system. I only know what I’ve read or seen on the TV so let’s start with the facts.

British Airways CEO Alex Cruz blamed the problem on a “power surge” at one of its UK-based data centres.

The back-up systems that should have automatically stepped in, didn’t so a small molehill of a problem became a mountain. At this point the airline's Disaster Recovery Plan should have kicked in but it didn’t.


I read an interesting story in the Guardian which quoted a number of data centre designers who said that a power surge should not be able to cripple a data centre and its back-up. So what went wrong?
BA has been criticised for outsourcing a lot of its IT requirements to India and cut hundreds of UK jobs as part of cost-cutting measures.

The airline refuted suggestions that outsourcing was the cause of the outage but by then the die had already been cast. Unions were quick to point the finger at outsourcing for the problem.

Companies will experience IT problems but the key is having robust processes in place that keep the downtime to a minimum.

Getting rid of experienced and relatively expensive techies in favour of the cheaper option might please the accountants but it’s a false economy in the event of a problem.

I don’t know if this was the case at BA but too many companies pay lip service to quality IT and infrastructure support and end up paying a heavy price.

What I do know is that lots of the stranded BA passengers complained about the lack of communication and that’s nothing to do with technology. It’s poor customer service and it’s inexcusable.

Last year my flight to Madeira was delayed by 24 hours and it was the lack of information that infuriated me and my fellow passengers more than anything else.

British Airways has to learn the lessons of this PR disaster and quick if it wants to survive in a competitive marketplace.