British Airways passengers have criticised the “absolute chaos” at London’s Heathrow Airport after all short-haul flights on Saturday morning were cancelled due to a major IT outage.
The issue has also caused flight delays, with passengers stuck on planes after landing at the airport and baggage piling up.
The airline said the problem, which may also cause delays for its customers using Gatwick and London City Airport, is related to a hardware issue and is not because of a cyber attack.
Hundreds of people have been queuing outside Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on Saturday with staff only letting passengers into the building an hour before their flight, due to the backlog inside.
Dr Penny Slaney, 62, a consultant radiologist from Worcestershire, told the PA news agency the situation has been “absolute chaos” and the lack of communication from BA has been “appalling”.
Dr Slaney said she and her daughter were due to be on the 9.15am flight to Salzburg for a holiday before their travel agent managed to move them to the 12.30 flight – but both were cancelled.
“The lack of communication is the primary issue. We heard about the IT issue from a fellow passenger,” Dr Slaney said.
She said their family have not been on holiday for three years and are missing a day of their week-long break in Austria.
“There was no information from BA at all – nothing. The news has told us more about what is going on,” Dr Slaney said.
“It has been absolute chaos. I could organise this better,” she said, adding that the staff at the terminal doors checking passenger details looked freezing without any warm clothing.
“They said to us when we got to the door to “go home”. I think that is very poorly managed.”
Paolo Camara, 41, who is going through Heathrow in transit from Istanbul to his home in Jersey with his friend Francisco Costa, 38, said the situation is a “nightmare”.
“As soon as I arrived here, I got a message saying our next flight was cancelled,” he said, adding that they had paid £1,400 between them for their flights.
“We have tried ringing BA but nobody will answer. It is very confused.”
“It’s just a nightmare,” he added.
“There is only one more flight to Jersey today and if that doesn’t go, we will have to stay in a hotel.
“We have been travelling for seven hours. I just want to go home and relax.”
Mr Costa said: “This is the last time I use these guys. Next time I use a different company.”
Susan Watson, who is in her mid-40s and works in London, said she was booked on the 12.15pm flight to travel to Aberdeen for work and to see family.
“I have got my godson’s 21st birthday party this evening so I was hoping to be there for that,” she said.
“I’m disappointed for both reasons, for work and for seeing my family and friends, so it is not ideal.”
Joe Griffin, 29, and Janelle Yee, 28, both from London, said their 9pm flight to Geneva was cancelled on Friday night after they had checked in.
After staying in a hotel, they booked a new flight for 3pm on Saturday but would be unable to get their checked bags back from BA before their holiday.
Mr Griffin said: “We were supposed to fly at 9pm and then it was delayed and after waiting at the gate for an hour one of the pilots came out and said they didn’t know what was happening.
“They said ‘go to a hotel’ and when the system was back and running, they would automatically book us on but this didn’t happen.
“So we’ve booked a flight for 3pm today but who knows what will happen.
“I think they can’t do anything about it, and without the system they are just screwed,” he said, adding that he will cancel his annual leave and “be back in work on Monday morning” if their flight doesn’t go ahead.
Some passengers were handed a letter from BA which said they were cancelling more flights throughout Saturday.
It read: “Unfortunately we have also had to take the significant decision to cancel many of our other short-haul flights today while we work on the issues which is why there are no options to fly on a later service on Saturday 26th February.
“We know this is incredibly frustrating but we don’t want to offer you a flight which is at risk of cancellation again and causes you further issues and uncertainty.”
BA said long-haul flights are still operating, but customers may experience some delays.
In a statement, BA said: “We are extremely sorry that due to the continuing technical issues we are facing we have regrettably had to cancel all short-haul flights from Heathrow today until midday.
“Customers due to travel later today should check their flight status on ba.com before coming to the airport as we anticipate further disruption during the day.”