Last year, London's Healthrow Airport Terminal 5 (T5) suffer from computer problems with its baggage system that caused massive disruptions for British Airways (BA) passengers. It took several months but the computer problems were eventually solved.
Things have been relative quiet at T5 until this weekend, when a supposed "mechanical failure" with the baggage system for 90 minutes caused up to 5,000 BA passengers to be stranded. Things are back to normal today, but those who were left stranded are an unhappy lot, even though BA "apologized" for their inconvenience.
Turns out that BA decided to fly its planes without passengers, rather than to delay or cancel any of its flights. In fact, the standed passengers were viewed as a "backlog" problem by a BA spokesperson,
“We haven’t cancelled any flights – the flights have still gone on – but it has created a backlog of passengers who have been unable to check in their baggage.”
Hmm, so stranded passengers are now considered merely "backlogs." Nice.
A report in NetworkWorld says that BAA, the airport's operator, who claimed initially over the weekend that the T5 problem was a mechanical-only related fault, is now backing off that statement and is not entirely ruling out an IT fault as the primary cause. According to the Daily Mail,
"Problems started when the electronic barcode system on the luggage conveyor belt could not process the large volume of luggage arriving from international passengers transferring at Heathrow."
Baggage volume was also orignally blamed last year for T5's baggage system's meltdown, before BA admitted that there were IT-related problems.
If the "mechanical fault" does turn out to be another IT problem, BA can expect another round of bad publicity, and the need to apologize a few more times to its passengers.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.