Air travelers accustomed to worrying about delays due to weather, mechanical problems with planes or unruly passengers now have one more reason to fret about getting stuck at the airport: computer problems that have grounded thousands of flights.
Last month Delta Airlines was in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why its computer system shut down for the second time in just over five months, resulting in hundreds of delayed or canceled flights. And Delta is not alone. United, Southwest and British Airways have dealt with their own computer malfunctions.
The technology being used by some airlines is often decades old. Computer systems do everything from ticketing to tracking baggage to ordering special meals and communicating with government databases. A small problem can have outsize consequences.
The glitches, according to one expert, signal that airlines are having trouble moving from legacy computer systems to “virtual” or cloud-based systems.
The new cloud systems promise improved reliability, if companies can make them work. Some airlines are experiencing turbulence trying to get there.
Atlanta-based Delta Airlines said about 280 flights were canceled last month “after an unspecified systemwide technical issue,” according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story printed in The News. Last August Delta experienced a computer failure that shut down its passenger check-in system. That problem lasted for days and resulted in 2,300 flight cancellations and a reported $150 million hit. Delta was not alone in being a repeat offender. United Airlines experienced an outage earlier in January. A much bigger outage in October resulted in widespread delays and cancellations.
Southwest Airlines’ computer troubles lasted for 12 hours last July, canceling more than a thousand flights. British Airways passengers were inconvenienced in September by a systemwide computer failure.
Like many industries, airlines are grappling with the changeover in technology. It’s unfortunate that passengers are paying for the privilege of being the beta testers.