BA flies into another storm with crash warning cock-up

After all its recent problems, mid-air false alarms are not the kind of publicity British Airways needs.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 18 Jan 2011

Spare a thought for British Airways: as if its plunging bottom line and ongoing union problems weren’t enough to worry about, the airline can now add dodgy equipment to the list. During a flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong this week, passengers were incorrectly warned that the Boeing 747 on which they were travelling was about to crash into the sea. Cabin crew aboard the flight moved quickly to reassure (understandably) panicked passengers, and BA has since apologised profusely. But let’s face it: it could do without this kind of cock-up at the moment…

The pre-recorded message played to passengers would have been enough to strike fear into the heart of even the most seasoned traveller. ‘This is an emergency,’ it began. ‘We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water.’ It didn’t help matters that the plane was flying over the North Sea at the time, making it all the more plausible. ‘People were terrified,’ one excitable passenger told the Sun. ‘We all thought we were going to die.’ Given that the chances of a big aircraft managing a safe landing on water are pretty slim (unless you’ve got Chesley B. Sullenberger at the controls, of course), you can hardly blame them.

Contrary to the Sun's piece, BA assures us that there was no chance of this being a pilot cock-up (or the result of a very punchy dare from the co-pilot, for that matter); apparently, pilots can't activate this kind of announcement.  And it insists the situation was rapidly resolved: 'Our cabin crew immediately made an announcement following the message advising customers that it was played in error and that the flight would continue as normal'. That's as maybe (and perhaps the affected passengers can bag themselves a free upgrade or something by way of compensation). But it does raise the question: if this was an electrical gremlin, what else might go wrong with the equipment during your seven-hour flight to the East Coast?

The wider point, of course, is that BA has already been losing custom because passengers are worried about their journey being disrupted by strike action. Stories like this aren’t exactly going to persuade people to give it the benefit of the doubt.

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