What Should You Do If Affected by the British Airways Disruption?

May 30, 2017

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

On Saturday morning, British Airways suffered what the airline described as a “power outage,” canceling all services for most of Saturday, with heavy delays and cancellations following on Sunday.

The outage caused three days worth of disruption to the entire British Airways global network, with passengers being affected around the world, connections missed, luggage lost and the website down for almost 72 hours. In addition to the already stressful situation, there was a complete lack of communication from British Airways to its passengers. Most were left in the dark wondering how they rebook flights without a functioning website and call center, and with all ground systems down for most of the weekend within BA’s home at London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5. 

As of today, despite most services up and running as normal, hundreds of passengers are still waiting to board flights that they originally had booked for three to four days ago — partly due to the fact that BA hasn’t been very accommodating, especially given the circumstances. For example, a passenger I spoke to was booked to fly economy from London Heathrow (LHR) to Tel Aviv (TLV) on Saturday morning, exactly when BA suffered the outage. The following day, and after hours in a queue, BA told her she could fly to Tel Aviv on Monday’s flight — but they only had seats in premium economy available, meaning the passenger would need to pay £800 (about $1,025).

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 16.52.39

And now, with the schedule slowly resuming back to normal (despite thousands of bags lost in the system at Heathrow and worldwide), passengers are left wondering how — or if — they can be compensated for experiencing such an ordeal.

Your Rights during the British Airways Outage 

There are four key areas of passenger rights during the British Airways disruption.

  1. British Airways have an obligation to get you to your destination. If you were booked to fly to, for example, Abu Dhabi (AUH) on Saturday afternoon, then British Airways must get you there (not necessarily on its own aircraft) on the next available flight. (I have checked, and refusing a passenger to fly in Economy Plus because they were already booked in Economy would be seen as unreasonable/unfair by the authorities — and potentially the courts.)
  2. If you decide you don’t wish to rely on British Airways to get you to your final destination, you are entitled to a full refund.
  3. In addition to both, if you decided to wait for the next available flight or opt for a refund, you are entitled to reimbursement of expenses by British Airways. The reimbursement policy applies to all cancelled flights of BA and is as follows:
    • Hotel accommodation (£200 per day per room, two people sharing)
    • Transport between the airport and your hotel (£50 per round trip)
    • Reasonable meal and refreshment expenses (£25 per adult per day and £12.50 for children per day)
    • Two reasonable telephone calls per customer

    On the days of the BA outage, the UK had a bank holiday weekend, with the holiday falling on Monday. As a result, most hotels were either at capacity, or priced far higher than the £200 per day per room policy from British Airways.

  4. Compensation as per European Union Law

Airlines that are registered in European Union countries (and despite the UK voting for Brexit, Britain is still in the EU) are obligated to adhere to EU law, which dictates specifically how much airlines must pay to compensate passengers during airline disruption.

EU 261 is monetary compensation to airline passengers in situations of overbooking, cancellation or delay of a flight. The type and amount of monetary compensation depends on the disruption (a delay or cancellation) and the distance between the booked flight’s origin and destination. For example, passengers who had BA flights cancelled, and who arrived more than four hours later than the original booked flight’s arrival time (which in this British Airways outage situation was almost everyone), you are eligible for the following EU compensation:

Flight distance Compensation per person
Up to 1,500 km 250 Euros
1,500 km to 3,500 km 400 Euros
Over 1,500 km and between two EU States 400 Euros
Over 3,500 km 600 Euros

Source: UK Civil Aviation Authority 

Will British Airways claim “extraordinary circumstance” to avoid paying compensation?

Airlines can get away without paying EU compensation by claiming “extraordinary circumstances;” these are circumstances out of the airlines’ control, like an air traffic control failure, or a sudden closure of airspace due to bad weather. Despite no official word from British Airways yet regarding compensation, it’s presumed the airline will be obliged to pay EU261 compensation to customers as the CEO confirmed it was an IT failure that hit BA this weekend — meaning a technical problem, rather than cyber attack, or something out of BA’s hands.  An IT failure is not an “extraordinary circumstance,” but something the airline should have been able to foresee, and not been left vulnerable to in the first place.

My Advice

Because the situation is still ongoing, with thousands of bags displaced and passengers still waiting to board new, rebooked flights, I would wait a couple of weeks (minimum) to file a EU261 claim to British Airways. If the airline avoids paying passengers EU261, expect a huge backlash, multiple legal cases and potential involvement from the UK Civil Aviation Authority, as a simple “IT failure” is not a valid “extraordinary circumstances” reason. The EU lawyers I spoke to this morning agree that the airline suffering an IT failure is quite simply a “technical reason” for the flight cancellation, no matter how large of an impact the actual IT failure had on British Airways’ operations.

Bottom Line

This was a very messy few days for British Airways — and it wasn’t handled well at all. As the situation is still in the process of returning back to normal, you should allow the airline some time before filing your EU261 claim, however reimbursement of travel expenses and refunds can be communicated to the airline as soon as possible.

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.