Thousands of travellers had their holiday plans plunged into chaos yesterday as British Airways cancelled nearly 200 flights following a systems failure.
Many more angry passengers faced long delays as the “technical issue” stranded the airline’s jets at the wrong airports.
The chaos came in the wake of a series of BA tech failures where flights were scrapped before last Christmas.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel magazine, said: “The busy holiday season is only just beginning but already BA is breaking its promises to its customers that it would avoid a repeat of last year’s travel chaos, with thousands of passengers now finding themselves in holiday hell as a result of yet another IT disaster.
He added: “BA has a legal responsibility to refund or re-route any passenger caught up in the chaos, and travellers shouldn’t be shy about enforcing their rights.”
Holidaymakers using other transport also suffered yesterday: Dover was hit by long queues and delays as 5,500 cars and 350 coaches tried to get through the port. Some travellers missed their booked Channel ferries but shipping firms vowed to find room on later services.
Motorways and train stations were swamped, with major congestion on the M25 around London as well as on the M5 and the M6. There were also delays on Eurostar services from London St Pancras.
Angry BA passengers hit out at airline bosses as they faced huge costs to book replacement flights – or had to abandon holidays.Antony Knights cancelled his long weekend in Berlin with his wife, at a total cost of £1,800.
He told LBC: “The trip had been planned since September 2022 to celebrate my wife’s promotion.
“I went to look for the customer service desk. The queue was already 75 to 100 metres. Two BA people on the desk but elsewhere in the terminal, they were nowhere to be found. It was absolute chaos.
“I asked if BA could book us on to a new flight and accommodation for the night as no more flights were scheduled for the day. They said ‘No – go to the BA website’. Alternative flights, trains and other options quickly sold out.
“[BA’s] failure to communicate is the most annoying thing – I understand sometimes things happen, but this is avoidable and dealt with extremely badly.” US flier Jim Wheaton was left fuming after his BA flight to Boston was axed, as his daughter, who has Down’s syndrome was likely to miss her friend’s wedding.
Mr Wheaton, 66, finally flew with American Airlines – but without his luggage, and said he had “no confidence BA were going to get this thing straight”.
Another passenger said: “Turned up at Heathrow at 5.30. Flight cancelled to Basel. No help from staff. Supposed to be picking up a river cruise for 50th. Awful. This was supposed to be a celebration. We are teachers and have to plan around school holidays.”
It was expected that yesterday would see the highest number of airport departures since December 20, 2019, with more than 3,000 flights, due to the school holidays.
Last night BA cancelled flights at Heathrow as it struggled to recover, grounding Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Manchester and Newcastle services. Its evening links to Venice, Prague, Stuttgart and Zurich were axed too, taking the total scrapped to around 200.
Aviation analytics firm Cirium said 83 BA flights were cancelled yesterday and 92 on Thursday – more than 20,000 passengers’ trips. There were widespread delays to other flights and some passengers could not check in online.
BA said: “We have cancelled some of our short-haul flights from Heathrow due to the knock-on effect of a technical issue [on Thursday].
“We’ve apologised to customers whose flights have been affected and offered them the option to rebook to an alternative flight with us or another carrier, or a refund.”
Heathrow bosses said the IT problem was not related to a pay strike by Terminal 5 security staff. Meanwhile some frustrated ferry passengers at Dover faced waits of more than two hours. Filby Hyde missed his sailing due to congestion and wrote online: “Arrived two hours before. The Port of Dover is not fit for purpose.”
Also stuck was Amanda Mason, who posted: “Been sat here waiting for over an hour and already missed my ferry. Surely #portofdover you would have got it sorted after all this time!”
P&O Ferries reassured customers they would be put on the next available sailing if they missed their booking due to traffic jams.
Vehicles were queueing for miles on the A20 despite a scheme meant to stop port-bound traffic disrupting the local roads network.
Kyla Rowland, 25, took 45 minutes to make the half-mile trip to her barista’s job on the seafront and said: “I could’ve walked it – I wish I had now!” Congestion began to ease off by noon.
The port’s bosses have been under pressure to enact measures to stop traffic getting snarled up after they declared a critical incident at Easter.
Travellers reported being stuck on coaches for up to 17 hours on the first day of the school holidays. Lengthy post-Brexit border controls were blamed, with information checks for coach passengers taking up to 15 minutes compared to one or two minutes before Britain left the EU.
Port chief executive Doug Bannister said this week that ferry operators were working with coach firms to smooth the flow of traffic. He stressed it “would be foolish” to guarantee there would no more queues at the port, adding: “But we have put in place all the measures in the best effort to make certain that those queues cannot happen.”
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said she will keep a “close eye” on the new measures at the weekend: “It’s vital that there isn’t a repeat of the Easter holiday traffic chaos.”
It was expected yesterday would be the busiest day for road and airport traffic since the pandemic, with 19.2 million car trips between Friday and Bank Holiday Monday.