On August 8, a power outage at Delta Air Line’s hub in Atlanta forced the airline to ground thousands of flights across its system. Although its computers came back online several hours later, the outage escalated into delays and cancellations that rolled into the next day, affecting tens of thousands of passengers. More than 1,000 of fliers were stranded in Tokyo alone, forcing them to sleep overnight at the airport.
The incident follows what Southwest Airlines encountered last month, where technical problems forced the carrier to ground hundreds of flights and even brought down its website; Southwest had to deal with further cancellations and delays that reverberated from the outage, even after its system came back on. CEO Gary Kelly told the Dallas Morning News that the cause was a router that failed and did not trigger the backup.
“It is a shame that the airlines are forcing people to use their online systems more”
And last year, United Airlines grounded flights after a computer glitch brought down its network, which the airline also attributed to a router. This was preceded by computer problems in 2014 and 2012 that also affected United’s operations. Both JetBlue and American Airlines also suffered similar issues in the past year.
Notice a pattern here? Though airlines are striving to make their operations and products more connected, they are relying more and more on computers to handle the work. According to SITA’s 2016 Airline IT Trends Survey, 68 percent of airlines plan to invest in Internet of Things-related products and services, from mobile check-in to airplane diagnostics.
The problem, as the Wall Street Journal points out, is that despite upgrades, airlines are still using IT systems that date back to the 1990s. Southwest, for example, has been using a “kludgy hodgepodge of technology systems,” Bloomberg reports, that have been in use for most of the airline’s 45-year history. Whether it’s a power outage or computer malfunction, the fact that a glitch in Atlanta could bring down Delta’s global network, with no redundancy to pick up the slack, is troublesome. According to Wired, Delta’s backup plan only delivered power back to the lights, but not the servers.
And, as airlines continue to push customers and employees toward computer-based automated systems, there’s no human backup in place either. “It is a shame that the airlines are forcing people to use their online systems more (by charging for certain bookings over the phone and having long waiting times) and as long as this is the trend, there will always be big problems with things like this,” travel expert Charles Barkowski told Digital Trends. He runs the website, Running With Miles, and recently had to deal with a similar situation.
IT meltdowns are becoming the norm, regardless of the airline you fly with. While they don’t occur often, it’s enough of a hit to both customers and the airlines when they do. But, hopefully, operations will improve: In the same SITA survey, a majority of airlines plan to increase spending on IT.
But until then, should you find your trip disrupted by a computer glitch, here are some things you can do to lessen the impact.