A five-hour computer outage that virtually shut down United Airlines is a stark reminder of how dependent airlines have become on technology.
Passengers saw their flight information vanish from airport screens on Friday night and early Saturday, and thousands were stranded as United canceled 36 flights and delayed 100 worldwide.
The airline still had no explanation on Saturday afternoon for the outage, but things could have been much worse.
A blizzard in the Northeast wiped out more than 10,000 flights over three days in December, a mid-January storm led airlines to cancel nearly 9,000 flights.
Friday’s shutdown occurred late enough in the day that many of the canceled flights were the last planes out for the day, said Henry Harteveldt, an airline analyst with Forrester Research. On a Monday morning, the results could have been catastrophic.
“It happened as a lot of the airline was going to sleep for the night,” Harteveldt said.
That doesn’t mean affected travelers were happy.
“I’m just amazed at how catastrophic the failure was,” said Jason Huggins, 35, who was trying to fly home to Chicago after a week working at his software company’s San Francisco headquarters. “All the computer screens were blank, just showing the United logo.”
Huggins paid US$1,200 to book one of the last three seats left on an American Airlines flight home.
Social workers Penny Nordstrom, 57, and Emily Schaefer, 42, who were trying to get home from Cancun, Mexico, to Spirit Lake, Iowa, said their delays started with a computer problem at midday on Friday in Mexico.
“We’re way past 24 hours now,” Nordstrom said about noon on Saturday before she boarded a rebooked flight from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Detroit, Colorado, for a connection to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
She expected to get home about midnight, but hoped her travel insurance would offer some compensation.
United spokesman Charles Hobart said late on Saturday afternoon that the airline didn’t expect to cancel any more flights this weekend because of the computer problems, though delays might continue.
On a typical day, United, a subsidiary of United Continental Holdings Inc, cancels 15 to 30 flights for reasons ranging from fog to maintenance problems or staffing shortages. Those are understandable. Passengers and others said a computer glitch should not have grounded the airline.
“They’re infrequent, but the fact that they happen at all is puzzling. These are mission-critical,” airline analyst Robert Mann said. “The idea that they would fail is troubling.”
Mary Clark, a United spokeswoman, said she couldn’t say how many passengers were delayed or how many still needed to reach their destination by midday on Saturday.
About the outage itself, she and other airline personnel said only that it was caused by “a network connectivity issue.”
Airlines rely on computers today more than ever. Reservations and customer service are largely automated, even flight paths are increasingly computer-generated. Most passengers are asked to check-in online, at airport kiosks or via mobile phone — not with an agent — and paper tickets are a thing of the past.
Airplanes also are flying fuller this summer than ever before. United’s were 86.8 percent booked on average last month, which in reality meant many flew without a single empty seat. So rebooking passengers from canceled flights is much trickier and more time--consuming than in the past.
United and Continental merged in May last year. They are slowly integrating their systems but still operate independently. So Continental was able to dispatch flights normally, though some of its airport kiosks were affected.
STAYING AHEAD: Fitch said that TSMC remains technologically ahead of others, but Samsung is building a new chip fab, while China is investing in its domestic industry As escalating US-China tensions and COVID-19-related production disruptions force US technology supply chains to transform, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co’s (TSMC, 台積電) US$12 billion chip fabrication plant in Arizona would be key to spurring greater US production of core semiconductor components, Fitch Ratings said. “We view the US-TSMC alliance as a first step in building a more autonomous US technology supply chain, given high barriers to entry, specifically related to the significant capital and design capability required for leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing,” Fitch said in a statement on Tuesday. “By working with TSMC, US chipmakers will not face the financial burden of incremental investment
DIVERSIFICATION: Although COVID-19 would push more companies to produce in emerging markets, DBS said that it was unlikely that firms would totally leave China Geopolitical tensions and supply disruptions are expected to accelerate the migration of manufacturing out of China, as concerns about the risk of production concentrated in one country increase, S&P Global Ratings said. Although its economic expansion might be weaker than previous levels due to the accelerated relocation of manufacturing, China’s economic growth would still be stronger than that of most other economies, the ratings agency said. “While absolute growth rates will moderate, we believe China’s economic performance will continue to be a key sovereign credit support,” S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Tan Kim Eng (陳錦榮) said in a statement on Thursday. “Its growth
Taiwan’s corporate landscape has changed significantly over the past 20 years, with Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (鴻海精密) replacing Formosa Plastics Corp (台塑) as the revenue leader, while Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC, 台積電) has emerged as the most profitable firm, a survey of Taiwan’s 50 largest companies published on Tuesday last week showed. The Chinese-language CommonWealth Magazine survey ranked Taiwan’s 50 largest companies based on their revenue last year, and compared them with the results of a similar survey it conducted in 2000. Only 33 companies on the original list remained in this year’s rankings, the survey found, following two
GEOPOLITICAL RISKS: Beijing announced plans to strengthen ‘enforcement’ in Hong Kong, sparking losses across Asia led by the Hang Seng’s 5.6 percent plunge Local shares on Friday ended sharply lower amid renewed tensions between the US and China over Chinese telecommunications equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd (華為) and China’s plan to introduce a national security law in Hong Kong. The TAIEX on Friday finished down 197.16, or 1.79 percent, at 10,811.15 on turnover of NT$177.183 billion (US$5.9 billion), almost flat from a close of 10,814.92 on May 15. The market was down across all major sectors, in particular electronics shares, which finished down 1.99 percent from Thursday’s close. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電), the world’s largest wafer foundry and a chip supplier