Editor’s Blog: Walsh’s meltdown over the BA meltdown

A clearly irritated Willie Walsh was ready to chastise the press. “It wasn’t a computer meltdown,” he said as soon as he was asked about the British Airways incident that essentially shut down the airline’s London operations. “It was not a failure of IT; it was a failure of power.”

Walsh was in Cancun this week and at a press conference in his role as the chairman of the board of governors of IATA, which was holding its annual meeting.

But as CEO of IAG, parent of BA, he surely expected to be asked about last week’s operational meltdown and he was coiled and ready to set the record straight.

Power to a BA data center was improperly disconnected, he explained.  Then when power was restarted in an “uncontrolled” manner, it damaged BA’s servers, resulting in all of BA’s systems shutting down and aircraft having to be grounded across its system.

It’s important that BA understands the root cause of this failure. But what difference did it make to those stranded passengers whether their misery and ruined vacations was caused by someone pulling a plug – shutting down the system – or by a system that simply shut itself down? Either way, BA was left looking like the Starship Enterprise with shields up and computers down. No-one was going anywhere.

And at the time, the root cause of the meltdown was not known. What was clear, to the press and most definitely to affected customers, was that there had been a system meltdown.

Meanwhile, during a separate AGM panel, United CEO Oscar Munoz was a panelist and he also had some odd things to say given recent customer service events at his airline.

Essentially, he said frequent fliers, who are more knowledgeable about what it takes to get a plane to its destination on time and safely, are impressed with airline customer service.

I’ve said this a few times this year; in 2017, no airline should be selling safety as a customer service. Safety is and must be an absolute given. But it cannot be used as a customer service offering or as an excuse for poor customer service.

The BA and United incidents were very different. Airline safety was not compromised in either. But from their CEO remarks in Cancun, it seems there is still a tendency for some in this industry to mistakenly believe safety is a customer service. Or that finger-pointing at others will somehow disguise poor customer service.

Karen Walker karen.walker@penton.com