BA outage may have been down to engineer’s error

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The British Airways IT meltdown that left 75,000 passengers stranded over the bank holiday weekend may have been caused by human error, the head of its parent company has said.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group (IAG), set out further details about how the catastrophic outage is thought to have occurred and reiterated an apology to those affected.

He announced an independent investigation into the IT shutdown, adding that the actions of an engineer who disconnected and then reconnected a power supply to the data centre in “an uncontrolled and uncommanded fashion” may be central.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled after a shutdown of BA’s data centre knocked out its systems, and reports suggest it could face a compensation bill of up to £150m.

Mr Walsh, speaking at an airline industry meeting in Mexico, said: “We have commissioned an independent company to conduct a full investigation.”

He said the company would be “happy to disclose details” and that as a result of lessons learned “we’ll all be better”.

The IAG chief executive explained that the incident occurred when an electrical engineer disconnected the “uninterruptible power supply”, therefore shutting down the data centre.

He said that would not have been a problem in itself, but the damage was caused when the power was restored in an uncontrolled fashion.

Mr Walsh said: “It’s very clear to me that you can make a mistake in disconnecting the power.

“It’s difficult for me to understand how to make a mistake in reconnecting the power.”

He admitted that the incident had damaged the British Airways brand but said it would recover, and apologised again to customers.

“This is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody,” Mr Walsh said. “When you see customers who suffered, you wouldn’t want it to happen to any airline or any business.”

Consumer group Which? has said that BA ought to do more than the legal minimum to help affected customers after the three days of chaos that started on 27 May.

It claims some passengers were forced to sleep on terminal floors, with complaints that staff did not keep travellers properly informed.

Affected customers were later caught in a tussle between the airline and insurers over where to make claims for expenses incurred as a result of the disruption – which saw BA agree to change the wording of advice on its website.

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