BA delays: Airline changes advice over claims for expenses

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance reporter

image copyrightAFP

British Airways has changed its advice to customers who claim expenses for the weekend's travel chaos after a row with insurers.

The BA website initially suggested that customers should make a claim on their travel insurance for expenses such as meals during the delays.

But the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and consumer rights experts say responsibility is with the airline.

BA has now updated the language, removing any reference to insurance.

Saturday's IT fiasco grounded hundreds of flights and disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers around the world.

Passengers travelling in the EU are entitled to compensation, but insurers were angry with the airline for claims over non-flight expenses such as hotels, meals and phone calls.

BA's website had said: "You should make a claim with your travel insurer in the first instance. If you have expenses that either you were not successful in claiming or which are not covered by your policy, you may claim for only these expenses in the form below."

However, the ABI contacted the airline earlier in the week pointing out that the initial claim should be to the airline, and only if that was unsuccessful would some policies pay out for these costs. A payout from the airline means passengers are more likely to get the full refund, rather than be liable for an insurer's excess.

Revised wording was regarded still to be misleading by the ABI, until all reference to travel insurance was eventually removed from the online form by mid-afternoon.

In an interview on Thursday, Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways' owner IAG, said: "Clearly we will do everything we can to make up [for] the disruption they suffered."

media captionIAG boss Willie Walsh says BA did "everything possible" to get flying again after the IT fiasco

The airline said: "We have been encouraging customers that were affected by the weekend's events to submit claims for their expenses, including those beyond flights, so that we can compensate them.

"We have created a dedicated page on providing customers with additional information on how to make a claim."

It has now also added a link on its homepage for compensation advice.

Questions still remain over exactly how the IT fiasco occurred. The airline said on Wednesday that a loss of power to a UK data centre was "compounded" by a power surge that took out its IT systems.

An email leaked to the Press Association suggested that a contractor doing maintenance work inadvertently switched off the power supply, although this has not been confirmed.

The email said: "This resulted in the total immediate loss of power to the facility, bypassing the backup generators and batteries... After a few minutes of this shutdown, it was turned back on in an unplanned and uncontrolled fashion, which created physical damage to the systems and significantly exacerbated the problem."

Analysis: Chris Baraniuk, technology reporter

We have all been asked by IT support to "turn it off and on again" - but reports are circulating that doing so was spectacularly catastrophic at BA.

The story that an engineer accidentally disconnected a key data centre's power supply has not yet been confirmed by the airline and its IT contractor has said such speculation is "not founded in fact".

It is possible that a loss of power was compounded by back-up systems that failed to come online in time, but many are still questioning how that could be the case.

In other words, why would a single switch be a fail point for BA's entire operations?

Some IT professionals continue to question whether the age, quality and resilience of equipment in the airline's data centres may not also be to blame.

Until British Airways reveals some details about what happened, we can only keep guessing.

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