Welwyn Garden City pilgrimage frustrated by British Airways computer failure

Thousands of British Airways flights were cancelled.

Thousands of British Airways flights were cancelled. - Credit: Archant

A large group of would-be pilgrims are stuck in Welwyn Garden City rather than touring the land of Jesus Christ because their flight fell victim to a massive computer failure on Saturday.

Minister Simon Cragg

Minister Simon Cragg - Credit: Archant

About 40 parishioners of St Bonaventure’s Catholic Church and Christchurch Baptist Church were looking forward to a nine-day tour of the most important Christian sites of Israel and Palestine, but their Saturday evening flight from Heathrow to Tel Aviv was among thousands cancelled by British Airways.

At first they hoped it might be rescheduled over the weekend, but at 5pm on Sunday the organisers informed the group this was impossible.

Alwyn Challacombe of Panshanger, Welwyn Garden City, whose wife Valerie attends St Bonaventure’s Church, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “It is frustrating, especially for my wife, who had been looking forward to it enormously. The organisers will try to reschedule it for October or November.

“The travel agents did a good job keeping everybody informed, considering they were not being given much information themselves.”

Valerie said: “We booked over a year ago because we saw a leaflet going round the church, and we thought it would be a good thing to do.

“It was very much a pilgrimage rather than a sight-seeing tour. We wanted to go to the sites that any Christian would consider important.”

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The trip was to be jointly led by Father Norbert Fernandez and Christchurch minister Simon Cragg.

Although the computer problem caused by a power surge lasted just three hours, bosses were forced to cancel thousands of flights.

British Airways was operating a full schedule by Monday morning, but passengers all over the world have been separated from their baggage.

An airline spokeswoman said: “Our IT systems are back up and running and our operation continues to run as planned today with a full flight schedule at Heathrow and Gatwick.

“We are extremely sorry for the frustration and inconvenience customers experienced over the Bank Holiday weekend and thank them for their patience and understanding.”

She added that appropriate refunds to passenger unable to fly such as the WGC pilgrims would be made as soon as possible.

The GMB trade union has blamed the problem on British Airways cutting UK jobs last year and outsourcing IT provision to India to save money.

The company says this is common practice, and it would “never compromise the integrity and security of IT systems”.