Baggage Meltdown at Heathrow
A computer malfunction in the baggage system at London Heathrow's Terminal 4 has caused chaos for over 4,000 passengers flying British Airways (BA) and several others over the past several days. It appears that about noon Tuesday, a software upgrade to Terminal 4's computerized baggage handling system caused the the belts that route and or transfer luggage from check-in desks to specific aircraft luggage loading and off-loading areas to stop working.
As a result, BA told all of its economy class passengers who were leaving Terminal 4 (which handles long-haul flights to other countries) or transferring to other flights at the terminal that they could not check in anything but a small carry on bag. Business class and first class passengers were not affected (a travel class-specific software bug - how interesting). It must have been very thrilling for those passengers who were already on long-haul flights and landed at Heathrow only to be told they could go, but their luggage had to stay.
BA economy passengers were told they could try to ship their luggage to their destinations by other means, wait for some future BA flight when the system was working, try to get on another airline (BA said it would try to get other airlines to honor their tickets) or get a refund. Of course, I guess you could always upgrade if there was room.
The other airlines like Qantas, KLM and Air Malta that also use Terminal 4 quickly decided to manually moved passenger luggage, and therefore were only temporarily affected. BA claimed that the sheer quantity of their luggage meant this was not possible except for the aforementioned business and first class passengers.
As of today, the baggage system seems to be working again, except for transfer passengers. Heathrow has always been an awful place to transfer flights - this latest problem just adds to its notoriety, and a desire of experienced passengers to avoid Heathrow (and BA) at all costs.
According to reports, this is the 10th baggage system breakdown at Heathrow since last May.
In what could have been better timing for BA, while this situation was unfolding, it was announced that BA was the second worst airline in Europe for losing bags: 26.5 bags for every 1,000 passengers. Only TAP, the Portuguese carrier, lost more, some 27.8 bags per 1,000 passengers.
BA next announced a Â£12 fuel surcharge increase. As the Telegraph once more reported, that from "Monday, the surcharge for long-haul flights of less than nine hours will rise from Â£96 for a return flight to Â£106. For return long-haul flights of more than nine hours, the charge will increase from Â£116 to Â£128."
BA, with more exquisite timing, unveiled its new Terminal 5 to the press, which is supposedly going to solve the passenger baggage system problem once and for all. As the Telegraph reported, "Gary Ranns, lounges manager at British Airways, said: 'Terminal 5 will be a fantastic experience. It will make travelling a pleasure again and not a chore.' " Given what was happening over at Terminal 4 at the time, Ranns might have chosen better language.
And finally, to add to the positive publicity, BA pilots also have decided today that they would go on strike over the coming Easter holidays, and just before when Terminal 5 is supposed to open on 27 March.
Of course, BA apologizes for any inconvenience.
UPDATE: Friday, 22 February, BA announced everything was back to "normal" at Terminal 4 - which means routine chaos rather than computer enhanced chaos.