The perception of Haphazardness often overrides the actual reality, as I experienced recently after British Airways cancelled my flight at the boarding gate.

In creating the Haphazard Index (Hi) it will be necessary to distinguish between what is happening and how it is being perceived.

Cancelled Flight

While waiting to board a BA flight from Barcelona El Prat, a weary Captain comes out to tell us waiting passengers that he would overrun on his quota of flight hours and cannot fly due to a French air traffic controller strike.   

What followed was not particularly well handled by the ground staff but no disaster, yet the impression it left on the passengers was one of total chaos.  

Airport Design

Large airports are designed to flow passengers one way, depending on arriving or departing, meaning signage point towards a single direction.   So announcing to 150, now stranded passengers, some garbled instructions on how to reach the luggage conveyor belt and route back to check-in desks created a fair amount of confusion. 

Back at the check-in desks, many of the cancelled passengers began receiving texts with new flight bookings for later that day.  A new issue then ensued for people who had been automatically rescheduled for the next flight, they could not check-in their luggage due to queue length and one member of ground staff making a flippant rule that ‘everyone was equal in the queue’. This was not the case. From what I observed, people with texts showing later flights were happy to allow those with earlier flights to jump in front.

I was not rescheduled for that day, so in theory I did not even need to queue, twice! – I spent the first 30 minutes in the wrong queue.

Efficient System

All turned out fine. The vast majority of people were rescheduled the same day. A few others and I were provided taxis, nice hotel, dinner and breakfast for our trouble. Compensation has also been offered and accepted.

The systems and processes BA had in place had worked, and removing the ground crew’s handling, it was pretty efficient.


The perception of the passengers of BA’s handling (to be fair it was Iberia ground crew seconded to BA) was one of chaotic mess and hassle. The passengers I spoke with were all accepting that cancellations happen, and not upset with the Captain for wanting to keep to his quota (they would rather be safe), it was lack of clear instructions.

The algorithms had already reallocated seats by the time most passengers had reached the check-in desk, less than 45mins later. Pretty remarkable!


There was a lack of mindfulness across the ground team, who had lost sight of the passengers perspective. Had any of the team considered how the situation was being perceived they could have quickly remedied.

  • One agent could have led all the passengers back to the baggage carousel.
  • Another could have announced that texts were automatically being generated and people should check mobiles phones for new flight details, and explain why some passengers should be prioritised.
  • Another agent could have walked along the queue to check people were in the right line, and picked out those with babies and on long-haul connecting flights.

All of this would have been easily manageable with the number of staff available.

Perception vs. Reality

All 150 people, including me, were out of the airport within 3 hours, quite an impressive feat by BA when considered. Yet, most passengers will remember not knowing where to go, what to do, being in the wrong queue, and such things, making the whole system seem Haphazard, which was not the case!

John M

Image: Plane Reflection | John McKiernan

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