Another week, another major airline is crippled by some kind of software glitch. If you feel as if you’re hearing about these incidents more often, you are—but not necessarily because they’re happening more frequently.
Delta Air Lines Inc. suffered an IT outage that led to widespread delays and 280 flight cancellations on Jan. 29 and 30, a problem the carrier said was caused by an electrical malfunction. A week earlier, United Continental Holdings Inc. issued a 2 1/2-hour ground stop for all its domestic flights following troubles with a communication system pilots use to receive data.
“Delta was already in the midst of investing hundreds of millions of dollars to bolster its IT infrastructure and recovery capabilities,” spokeswoman Kate Modolo said in an email, who explained that the more limited “impact of the January event shows those efforts are paying off.”
Passengers inconvenienced by the more recent stoppages may be forgiven for not cheering too loudly. Add in the roles of Facebook and Twitter in amplifying the anger that comes with being stuck in an airport, or on a tarmac, or circling the runway, and you’ve got a good handle on why these outages are hitting a collective nerve. Each person on an affected flight has a story about how such a fiasco disrupted plans, and the means to share it. And they do.
Few major carriers have been immune to technological glitches of one sort or another. The underlying theme is that airlines these days are asking their IT to accomplish far more than ever before, from reservations to merchandising to flight operations to customer service. And all of these systems need to communicate with each other. The more complicated the network, the more prone to failure it becomes.