back to article BA check-in system checks out: Staff flung back to cruel '90s world of paper

British Airways has blamed “computer" problems for its inability to check in passengers worldwide. The airline apologised after people took to Twitter to complain of delays and misery. One tweeter in San Francisco scanned a letter from BA staff blaming “computer system” problems and saying staff were falling back on manual …

  1. John H Woods

    I am sure I cannot be the only person who has been somewhat aggrieved to hear this described as a "glitch" or, even less justifiably, a "blip."

    Glitches happen. Whether they cause blips or major system downtime is, if not exclusively, usually a matter of "cost control."

  2. djstardust

    "British" Airways

    Are in the process of moving 800 UK IT jobs to Tata (TCS) in India. Is this a coincidence?

    Just like many other companies "profits before punters" will bite them in the arse. Guaranteed.

    Previous story on El Reg here

    1. the J to the C

      Re: "British" Airways

      900 not 800 :)

      However seriously, you are right, I have worked for a number of large companies that have outsourced to other countries including Tata, the one constant is that service sufferers

      1. TkH11

        Re: "British" Airways

        Agreed. My own experience is when operational support is off-shored to India, it goes down the pan. There are a number of reasons for this including: level of ability of Indian staff, their culture of not admitting they don't know something, their national culture of refusing to send people on training courses preferring to rely on "on-the-job" training, bone idleness, a lack of proactiveness in ensuring they are skilled up and have everything they need to do the job. As a people they are followers with very fee leaders. They are reactive and when a major incident occurs, then they realise they are unable to even log in to the servers and applications because they never bothered to get organised and get the IPs, user IDs and passwords together. I am confident this is what has happens to BA.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How very dare you

    The cruel 90s world of paper was actually the cruel 90s world of computers, and AFAIR didn't go down like this. That might be due to the computer support being done just down the road from Heathrow though.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: How very dare you

      Yep it takes time for the computer engineer from India to get to the UK to try switching the system off and on again...

      1. Flywheel Silver badge

        Re: How very dare you

        He/She is still trying to check in at the BA Desk :)

      2. Wensleydale Cheese

        Re: How very dare you

        "Yep it takes time for the computer engineer from India to get to the UK to try switching the system off and on again..."

        Especially if he can't get a flight.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How very dare you

          Don't know why the down vote, work for a travel company and their technology in some parts is prehistoric, VB5 applications plugging into a 1960s era DB

      3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: How very dare you

        it takes time for the computer engineer from India to get to the UK to try switching the system off and on again...

        It would be a lot faster if they didn't fly via BA.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Joke

        Re: How very dare you

        "Yep it takes time for the computer engineer from India to get to the UK to try switching the system off and on again"...

        Especially when there are delays caused because the booking system has crashed.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How very dare you

      I expect until they replaced them with the this new system earlier in the year it was still the same system as they used in the 90s.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How very dare you

      The cruel 90s world of paper was actually the cruel 90s world of computers, and AFAIR didn't go down like this

      Correct. AFAIK it was running from mainframes, and although it took some time to learn the system, once you knew how to use it it was actually so fast that later attempts to stick a GUI on it stubbornly faltered because it would inevitably slow things down again - the one thing the already thinned-out herd of check-in people could not afford. The check-in system was IMHO a classic example of a system that quite simply did the job, and in pretty much the most efficient way possible.

  4. Bob Rocket

    Check in online

    'Customers were encouraged to check in online before they reach the airport'

    (from the Beeb website, it's ok, I've got a licence)

    If you can check in online then has no one at BA got a mobile phone and wireless printer ?

    1. frank ly

      Re: Check in online

      I'm sure you don't need a licence to look at the BBC news website. Not yet anyway.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Check in online

      Unfortunately online check in is also down. The only way to check in is to go to a desk at the airport (at least that's the situation at Copenhagen Airport) - thank goodness for being a BA Silver Exec card holder and jumping the queues... I was advised not to check in my bag but to take it as hand luggage.

      It seems it is not only the check in that is broken but also departures of all BA flights - mine is currently just under 2 hours late.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: mine is currently just under 2 hours late.

        Don't they know you're a "BA Silver Exec card holder"? It's one thing to delay the plebs, but when it starts impacting the wealth creators we've got real problems....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: mine is currently just under 2 hours late.

          The BA Exec Card Recognition / "Don't you know who I am?" system also seems to be down...

  5. roblightbody

    Outsourcing = problems

    The only point when they discover how good and efficient their in-house IT team was, is a couple of years down the line when the problems start to mount up, and take ages to resolve...

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Outsourcing = problems

      At least this time it is weeks down the line, not years down the line. So in theory, all the culprits are still in the same managerial positions. In theory.

      In practice, despite the company losing millions as a result of this wonderful idea, they will not be seen hanging on their suspenders out of the cargo hold on a 767 doing a short test flight around Heathrow. Though they should.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Outsourcing = problems

      ...is a couple of years down the line...

      I think BA have discovered this in a matter of months!

      What is telling, is given the reported problems with FLY, since it went live, there has been no "revert to old system" whilst problems are resolved...

      It wouldn't surprise me to discover that FLY has been implemented using some new technology that was never intended to be used for largescale real-time transactional systems...

  6. Flywheel Silver badge

    intuitive

    "intuitive" = It works for me in my Agile QA system when run under a highly-specific set of conditions and parameters. Real-world testing? Ha! That's what users are for.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: intuitive

      So you work for Microsoft then?

  7. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    I wonder how much this is costing?

    It isn't as though the 'lost' seats can be regained.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder how much this is costing?

      When the cost of downtime comes out of the same budget as the cost of {specification, design, development, testing, etc} then the world of corporate IT might look rather different than it currently does.

  8. 0laf Silver badge
    FAIL

    Usless shower of.......

    Their ticketing system sucks as well. Took me 6 attempts to get through it the last time I flew. If there was an alternative flight I'd have taken it.

    Then the plane broke (twice) and we were delayed 6hr at T5. You'd think BA had never seen a breakdown they way they reacted (when they finally turned up) from there on rapidly descended into farce... And you still owe my the delayed compo you bastards even though you've studiously ignored my complaint for the last 8 weeks.

  9. The Original Steve

    BA FLY Software

    I can vouch for BA FLY being a total piece of shit. I didn't realise this is a "new" application until today's issues.

    I work for a small MSP, where one of our client s a private executive charter European airline. (Think footballers, Princes etc.). Have been looking into complaints from their Cambridge FBO (mini-terminal for VIPs') where nobody can print from BA FLY to any of the standard, networked HP LaserJets.

    This software requires a VPN to work and has no native ability to print to Windows printers. At all. Apparently, after 4 months of talking to "BA IT Support" (in India) we need to install some 3rd party "CUPPS" software that acts as some abstraction layer between BA FLY and the Windows Printer Subsystem.... Because it's not like Windows has an API for that sort of thing...

    After months of complaining on behalf of my client, it still doesn't sodding work. Latest is that when you do print from BA FLY the job is sent to the spooler and printer queue, but just errors out. The best bit is that their "new" software sends the print jobs as SYSTEM - not as the user who is attempting the print. Now as these jobs never print, the queue gets blocked up for all other users attempting to print from exotic applications like Word and Chrome....

    What do you think happens when a standard, non-admin user attempts to cancel a print job that was created by SYSTEM....? Yeah - we have a bunch of happy users! Who the hell writes software like that?!

    You know it's excellent software when the "new" printer BA sent us to print off the boarding passes consisted of:

    Boarding pass thermal printer with RJ-45 connector -> RJ-45 to RS-232 adapter -> RS-232 adapter to USB -> USB to desktop for check-in.

    Just wow...

    I can only imagine how much of a joy this new BA FLY software must be to use just by the excellent state of their integration with windows printing and cabling to thermal printers...

    Sure outsourcing is totally irrelevant to the quality issues. Must be.

    1. Graham Cobb

      Re: BA FLY Software

      Sounds like the usual VPN problem with networked printers on a different subnet. Google for "split tunneling" for the best solution. Installing CUPS (the standard Linux printing software), presumably on a spare server somewhere, seems overkill.

      1. The Original Steve

        Re: BA FLY Software

        In this particular instance the printer is USB attached. Also the issue occurs when we use site-to-site as well as a client-to-site VPN. Fraid it's not routing - it's just that the way the application tries to print is essentially, shite.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: BA FLY Software

      "some 3rd party "CUPPS" software that acts as some abstraction layer between BA FLY and the Windows Printer Subsystem."

      The rest of your post may or may not be valid, but your not knowing what CUPS (in the context of printing) has signified for the last decade or more simply highlights the narrowness of your own personal IT experience.

      CUPS is even in Wikipedia - assuming that's the one the "support" people meant.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CUPS

      If you'd had any real IT awareness beyond Windows you'd have known to check what they were on about, whether that was the CUPS they meant.

      Sorry to be so blunt, but there is a world outside Microsoft and Windows, and it is going to be increasingly important. Don't be at the back of the queue.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If you'd had any real IT awareness beyond Windows

        You may of course have tons of experience that is non Windows, but if it's not Linux then the snobs on here won't miss a chance to lord it over you whatever you may know.

        The fact that this is a Windows system and they're trying to fix it by running a Linux service is typical of the Linux users insistence that their way must always be better, irrespective of the facts. How does knowing that CUPS is Linux help solve the printing problem? One more thing we know not to try?

        (Maybe they should've stuck to the usual, juvenile naughty word naming convention that gave us GIMP? Call it DCUP and it'd be obvious it was Linux.)

        1. collinsl

          Re: If you'd had any real IT awareness beyond Windows

          Common Unix Printing System (IE CUPS) was actually invented by Apple!

          1. Not That Andrew

            Re: CUPS

            No, Apple didn't create CUPS. It was created back in 1997 as a replacement for the creaky and ancient lpd. Apple later adopted it for OSX, funded development and then bought ought the company developing it in 2007

        2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: If you'd had any real IT awareness beyond Windows

          You may of course have tons of experience that is non Windows, but if it's not Linux then the snobs on here won't miss a chance to lord it over you whatever you may know.

          On the contrary! Relevant skills in cooking, internal combustion engine tuning, martial arts, nuclear engineering and hot raw sex are always appreciated.

          Skills in Windows, however, must, sadly be relegated to the dustbin of the fakers: people who are in IT because they heard it pays so much and are otherwise so uninterested in anything that they buy the proverbial cat in the bag. As a consequence they are mainly staring at goatsscreens telling them to wait because "Windows is updating".

      2. 7layersdown

        Re: BA FLY Software

        The air transport industry is different to the rest of the world. CUPPS is Common Use Passenger Processing System. It provides certain guarantees about the runtime environment (that it will be Windows, IIRC) and a what's basically a HAL for aviation specific peripherals.

        The closest I can find on Wikipedia is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airport_terminal#Common-use_facility but Google may have more info.

        1. Not That Andrew

          Re: BA FLY Software

          Here's an article about CUPPS: http://www.futuretravelexperience.com/2014/07/future-airport-common-use-will-one-size-fits-solution-ever-feasible/

          Reading between the lines, it appears to be a bit of a fustercluck.

    3. Alistair Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: BA FLY Software

      The suggestion that one needs CUPS in the processing path is a pretty good hint about where the print is coming from. I'll quietly note that MS print queues (at least post win2k3) and CUPs don't play nice. I've usually solved that by routing around the windows print server, and having cups send directly to the physical printer.

      This involves setting up a linux (box|VM) with minimal ram and cpu, with sufficient disk to store print queues, integrating with AD (if your printers are secured with AD Identies) and finding the printer's best access method. The most difficult bit is getting printer queue names to at least *resemble* one another.

      At least BA Fly isn't sending documents in excess of 1.84Gb to your print servers. Then you'd *really* be happy with them.

    4. cd

      Re: BA FLY Software

      Can you install a Print to PDF driver and then print the pdf locally?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Offshored / Out sourced?

    Can anyone confirm or deny that offshoring / out sourcing has actually happened, and whether today's issue is being fixed by the BA staff or the TATA staff?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Offshored / Out sourced?

      As far as I'm aware (I'm not an insider) the implementation of FLY was contracted out to TCS

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    coincidences?

    bottom of article :

    "Sponsored: Understanding ransomware and strategies to defeat it"

    1. Oengus Silver badge

      Re: coincidences?

      Understanding ransomware and strategies to defeat it

      Isn't "outsourcing" the oldest form of ransomware?

  12. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Joke

    Apology

    > The airline apologised after people took to Twitter to complain of delays.

    We are very sorry that some of our passengers use twitter but that's economy class for you...

  13. yoganmahew

    It's just resting...

    The system is clearly tired. Tuesday 6 September is well known amongst us airline insiders as the busiest day of the century, it's one of those coincidences that makes modelling on long-period averages fail. Who could have forseen it, but only by travelling back in time.

    AFAICR, the original legacy DCS system on RTZ was retired some years ago and BA were on Amadeus DCS until recently.

    Also, the stuff that failed at Delta? That was all new-fangled shiny-shiny. Not unimportant, but not the legacy stuff...

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: It's just resting...

      My exact thought. Amadeus is butt ugly beyond belief and requires training to work with. It, however, is relatively reliable. What usually fails are various gateways built to interface to it.

    2. yoganmahew

      Re: It's just resting...

      Ah, just seen on flyertalk that it's still Amadeus at the back end, but BA have their own GUI and middleware writted by TCS - http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/27171480-post77.html

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's just resting...

        Ah yes, TCS - Totally Crap Software :)

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: It's just resting...

          There are 100 6th of Septembers in a century. Some of them are Tuesdays.

          1. yoganmahew

            Re: It's just resting...

            "There are 100 6th of Septembers in a century. Some of them are Tuesdays."

            No way? Still, at least there aren't any Wednesdays in October.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's just resting...

      BA just moved from their legacy DCS to Amadeus Altea Departure Control, with a bespoke front end (the FLY bit)

  14. Slx

    I seem to remember in the 2000s a lot of airlines still had big multi-layer carbon paper based high tech ticketing and computers that looked like something out of a 1970s sci-fi movie.

    Ah, the good old days! I remember when you had physical tickets and airlines didn't assume that everyone's a potential terrorist.

    Also, Aer Lingus used to try and usually succeed in serving a full fried breakfast on a 40 internal Irish flight and to think, that was all for the price of an iPhone 7 or a small car. I'm sure it was totally worth it.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To be fair to BA

    Their customers should know better, granted, it's usually their lazy service staff on strike that cause delays, this time it's their lazy software developers, either way, fly BA and you do pretty much deserve to spend your time sitting in an airport watching paint dry.

  16. Alan Penzotti
    FAIL

    At least there is a paper workaround

    My recent domestic (US) flights have shown that the ticket counter people appear to no longer be trained in the soon to be lost art of hand-writing tickets or baggage tags. I discovered this when I had separately purchased (connecting) flights and they were confused that my final destination didn't match the "final destination" on the first flight. I showed them both ticket confirmation numbers. The system only knows how to print baggage tags based upon a single ticket, but not a combined itinerary. The folks at the ticket counter sent me to the gate (with carry-on sized bag to gate check to final destination.)

    The folks at the gate had the correct materials but didn't know how to fill them out. (I could have filled them out myself as I have seen them completed to know how it is done.) Instead they said, "board the flight with them."

    When boarding the flight, I got scolded for having three carry-on bags. I indicated to them that "I tried to check this bag at the ticket counter, at the gate (before boarding), and at the gate again (while boarding). I would be happy to check this bag if you would like." Bag ended up in overhead bin without charge.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You would think this snafu combined with Southwest and Delta's recent system crashes would prod these airlines into getting off of their legacy systems. Like banks, airlines hate to make changes to anything because no one wants to untangle those systems and possibly humpty dumpty their flight scheduling systems, but, at some point, there is a larger risk in doing nothing than in modernizing these systems.

    1. yoganmahew

      Er BA are off their legacy system... that's the problem!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        BA are off their legacy system

        "Er BA are off their legacy system... that's the problem!"

        Precisely, it was moving off the reliable legacy system onto the current 'innovation' that's the cause of the problem.

  18. AOD
    FAIL

    Cabin Pressure...

    Don't forget folks that if you were delayed by a significant amount of time due to today's issues that you should claim the compensation you're entitled to.

    Details can be found here on BA's site:

    http://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/legal/flight-cancellation-compensation

    Oh and if BA drag their heels on the compo, feel free to use money claim online to help jog things along.

    https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/web/mcol/welcome

    Reading between the lines for the issues today, one does rather wonder why they didn't use their secondary (DR) system (I'm presuming they have one) or whether that was also borked as well?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Outsourcing

    Sometimes the cowboys and the Indians are the same people.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Outsourcing

      I foresee a reboot of Karl May juvenile adventure stories, with more agility.

  20. TkH11

    It is quite simple. BA offshored/outsourced to India. It's cheaper than having the systems supported from the UK, the downside is they will experience longer downtime on the systems. BA will not bring the support back on shore until the cost to the business of lost customers is greater than the savings made by putting the support offshore. BA's reputation is in tatters, but has that reduced reputation resulted in a big enough reduction in customers? Probably not.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: cost to the business of lost customers

      I think you've misunderstood the situation somewhat.

      Customers didn't figure in the decision to move support away from the "expensive" people who had previously been doing the job. The workforce in general didn't figure in that decision. The only people who mattered in that process were the ones who award themselves megabonuses/shareoptions/etc when things go well, because obviously it was their personal and individual actions that made things go well. The same people who have nothing at all to lose when their personal and individual actions predictably make things go utterly pear shaped.

      If management actions cause customers to go elsewhere, it's the workforce that pays the price (typically with job losses). Not usually the management.

      "The business" doesn't make decisions. Individuals do (usually senior management). Are those individuals accountable, or not? If not, why are they paid so much?

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