After British Airways' disastrous IT outage, regaining altitude will not be easy

Tracey Boles
(FILES) British Airways tail fins are se
BA tailfins (Source: Getty)

British Airways is no stranger to crisis. The shambolic opening of Heathrow Terminal 5 in 2008 was a self-inflicted disaster and 2010's volcanic ash cloud, which grounded European airlines for weeks, cost the company dearly.

Weathering storms is part and parcel of the aviation industry. This year alone, the sector has endured United Airlines’ passenger-dragging fiasco, mass cancellations at Delta Air Lines, the US' laptop ban and Trump's restrictions on travel from some majority-Muslim countries.

But many analysts believe the bank holiday weekend's widespread cancellations on BA's network, the result of an IT outage, represent a new nadir for the flagcarrier, with considerable impact to its reputation.

As Damian Brewer, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said in a note: “It is tempting but increasingly questionable to view this as a one-off.”

Read more: BA owner IAG flies to the bottom of the FTSE 100 after IT troubles

Whilst BA may have not been able to control the IT meltdown, it could certainly have coped better with the fallout. The initial lack of staff visibility on the ground suggested a dearth of empathy by the airline, according to former Downing Street special adviser and founder of consultancy Trafalgar Strategy, Giles Kenningham.

Meanwhile, images of thousands of stranded passengers coursed through social media. With tough guy Willie Walsh at the helm of BA's parent IAG, do not be surprised if heads eventually roll for the debacle which is set to cost millions.

The latest buffeting comes as BA, headed by cost cutter Alex Cruz, faces increasing competition on lucrative transatlantic routes from rivals such as Norwegian.

Data out last week on annual seat capacity revealed just how far BA's star has fallen in a world where the lines between full service carriers and budget airlines have blurred.

In OAG's rankings, American Airlines came out top with 250,762,625 available seats, followed by fellow US carriers Delta, Southwest and United.

Ryanair roared to fifth place with 126,503,18, nosing well ahead of easyJet (82,644,804) at number nine, and BA (61,978,149), at number 15. China Southern and China Eastern landed at numbers six and seven respectively.

It will not be easy for BA to pull up and regain altitude, but the airline should start by putting customer service back at the heart of its offering. That requires investment and slicker communication, not cost cutting and stonewalling.

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