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An exterior view of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

Major Computer Outage Stirs Chaos at London Heathrow Airport

Cancelations and delays marred the travel plans of thousands of passengers last Sunday at Heathrow Airport as an IT glitch affected the airport’s check-in systems at all four terminals.

According to British website independent.co.uk, more than 100 flights have been canceled during the day, and it was resident carrier British Airways that experienced the highest number of cancelations.

The IT outage affected systems both landside and airside and with information screens out of commission airport staff had to resort to writing on whiteboards to communicate information to confused passengers. Flights were allowed to takeoff even beyond the midnight curfew in order to catch up with the delays accumulated throughout the day as the problem was solved at about 10.25 p.m. local time when Heathrow airport announced that “systems are returning to normal.”

Heathrow Airport apologized to its customer with a tweet: “We apologize for the inconvenience caused. Our teams will continue to monitor our systems and be on hand to provide assistance to passengers as we work to resume our regular operations.”

British Airways is canceling more flights on Monday as a result of the IT outage and the disruptions created by Storm Dennis. All passengers who were intended to travel on a flight that has been canceled can obtain a full refund or request to be rebooked to a later service, the airline said.

The problem started early on Sunday afternoon, and as the day progressed passengers took to social media to report scenes of endless lines and whiteboard used to deliver information to more and more confused passengers as the situation escalated to “utter chaos.”

Heathrow Airport and British Airways dispatched extra staff to help travelers find their gates, but as the day marked the beginning of a school break in the U.K., families of vacationers were facing extended delays, missed flights and a rough start to their holidays.

“We have introduced a flexible booking policy and have brought in extra colleagues to help our customers, providing them with overnight accommodation if needed,” British Airways said.

Some flights departed without luggage to avoid worsening the delays, while some passengers reported being allowed to travel with their luggage in the cabin. Cancelations mainly involved British Airways flights but other airlines also were affected by delays: one Emirates flight to Dubai left over three hours behind schedule, with many passengers that were due to connect to onward services in the UAE left to be rebooked onto later flights.

Other IT glitches had caused widespread delays at London Heathrow in the recent past, but those incidents were due to British Airways’ own systems, while in this case, Heathrow Airport’s check-in systems are to blame.

In August 2019 more than 100 flights were canceled and over 200 were delayed when two separate British Airways systems stopped working. In May 2017, during a busy long weekend, a major computer failure stranded thousands of passengers at the airport forcing the cancelation of 726 flights.


  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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