Lessons from BA’s IT Meltdown: How To Survive Delays & Disruption

Our tips on how to to survive airline delays and disruption at airports.

After a truly terrible weekend for British Airways passengers, BA’s London operation has largely recovered and the airline is expected to operate a full schedule tomorrow, Tuesday 30 May.

There were undoubtedly many failings on the part of BA. Not least the IT issue itself, but also the airline not realising it had a serious operational crisis quickly enough and getting its message out to the public via both traditional “mainstream’ and social media.

As awful as these events are for those caught up in them, it’s worth remembering that they are very rare. The age of digital media outlets all competing for eyeballs and social media means that they are widely publicised worldwide. However, every day tens of thousands of flights operate around the world, largely on time, with baggage and without incident.

That said, even for the experienced frequent flyer, there are always lessons to be learned and it is always worth being prepared for all eventualities.

1. Always travel with insurance

This may seem an obvious point to passengers in the UK who always have insurance to ensure adequate medical cover abroad, but many passengers from outside the UK do not travel with insurance.

However, medical cover aside, a good travel insurance policy will provide cover for delays, cancellations and lost luggage.

Always make sure you have documentation to hand (and in soft copy) so you know what you are entitled to claim for.

2. Always be prepared for the possibility of lost luggage

The chances of your luggage being lost on a normal operating day, are very low, particularly if you are travelling on a direct flight without a connection. However, as happened at London Gatwick last week, baggage system failures do happen. Also many BA passengers whose flights were cancelled this weekend were unable to retrieve their bags before leaving the airport.

In the vast majority of instances, lost luggage is eventually reunited with its owners. However, you should always be prepared for lost luggage. Ensure your luggage is clearly labelled with your contact details on both the inside and outside of your luggage. Always ensure you retain your baggage receipt and remove any baggage stickers or tags from previous flights. Always carry essential items such as keys, medication, personal electronics and important documentation in your hand luggage. And have at least one days’ worth of clothing in your hand luggage.

If you arrive from a flight and your luggage has been lost do not leave the airport without having filed a lost baggage report with the airline or its local handling agent.

3. Have the airline’s app downloaded on your smartphone/tablet

All major airlines now have dedicated smartphone and tablet apps. Even on a normal operating day, this is usually by far the easiest way to check-in, keep track of the flight and obtain boarding gate information.

Some airlines also have automatic rebooking facilities in their apps during disruption. Somewhat ironically, BA has started to trial an automatic rebooking facility on its smartphone app for some frequent flyers, but is yet to roll this out to all users.

US airlines are particularly advanced in this field and will also provide information on the location of your luggage and the status of the inbound aircraft that is due to operate your flight.

4. Download a Twitter app and follow the airline on social media.

Some airlines are better than others at dealing directly with customer bookings (KLM is often cited as one of the best), but most airlines will respond to customer queries via Twitter.

Always remember there is a human on the other side of the Twitter handle and, however frustrated you may be, focus on what they can do for you rather than letting off steam. Warmth and humour often works well with airline twitter teams. Also be careful not to disclose personal information such as frequent flyer programme numbers and booking references on public tweets.

5. When you are caught up in disruption know when it’s time to leave the airport

One of the biggest mistakes BA made on Saturday was not realising it had a serious operational crisis and not cancelling its flying programme at London Heathrow early enough. This result was very severe congestion at London Heathrow Terminal 5 and many thousands of frustrated customers.

At an extremely busy airport like London Heathrow if there are very long delays and long queues to check-in or be rebooked, realistically the chances of getting on a flight are very low. In such, instances it’s better to take matters into your own hands, leave the airport, book a hotel yourself, and claim the expenses back from the airline or from your insurance company later.

If you have already checked-in and cleared security you should be able to do what is known as “offload” yourself from the flight and “self-land” at the airport. However, you may have to wait to be escorted out of the post security area of the airport.

6. Never take out your frustrations on airline staff

If you think you’re having a bad day, then think of the front line staff!

They are not responsible for their employer’s operational decisions and policies and they often have very little flexibility to deviate from them. Again, in your interactions with airline staff focus on your immediate needs and what they can actually do for you there and then.

7. If your travel plans are ultimately frustrated, remember there will be always another time

It’s commonplace at times like this to look back at a supposed golden era of travel. In truth, that time is now. Passengers have more choice of airlines, routes, aircraft and cabins and more technology tools at their disposal than ever before. And there will always be new opportunities. Inevitably things will go wrong, and when they do, chalk it up to experience and start planning your next trip.

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