United Airlines Grounds Flights Due to IT Issues

IT infrastructure problems disrupt United travel for second time in about one month

Jason Verge

July 8, 2015

3 Min Read
United Airlines Grounds Flights Due to IT Issues
United Airlines passengers wait in line to check in for flights at San Francisco International Airport on July 8, 2015, in San Francisco, California. Thousands of United passengers around the world were grounded Wednesday due to a computer glitch. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

United Airlines’ US flights were grounded for over an hour due to “automation issues,” according to the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The airline issued a statement saying a network connectivity issue kept flights grounded, however, little more information has been made available so far. The ground stop began around 8:30 am EDT Wednesday and was finally lifted around 9:50 am. The airline is in the process of looking into the issue and flight delays continue into the day.

A lack of “proper dispatch information” kept flights grounded for less than an hour last month as well. In 2012, issues with the merger between United and Continental were credited with causing significant systems outages in August and again in November.

Any issues with individual airlines often have a butterfly effect, affecting air travel beyond just the airline.

IT issues disrupting air travel is a periodical occurrence. As we wait for more information on United's debacle, let's take a look back at a few incidents from recent history:

IBM generator failure causes New Zealand airline chaos

An IBM generator failure caused chaos in 2009. Key services were crippled for Air New Zealand, prompting the airline’s CEO to publicly chastise IBM’s CEO. Around 10,000 passengers were grounded.

The problem occurred during planned maintenance in IBM’s Newton data center in Auckland. Generator failure dropped power to parts of the data center, including the mainframe operations supporting Air New Zealand’s ticketing.

Cable cut in Midwest hobbles Alaskan Air

A Sprint cable cut in Wisconsin hobbled Alaska Airlines’ connection to Sabre, a reservation and ticketing system. It was a good example of how something as simple as a fiber optic cable cut can be felt thousands of miles away.

IT woes ground American Airlines

An outage in a key reservations system kept flights grounded for a day. An early tweet from the company blamed downtime problems with the Sabre reservations network but was later corrected to say it was an issue in its ability to access Sabre -- a network issue. Sabre said it was up and running fine with all other airlines.

“Leap Second Bug”

This entry also appeared on our strangest outages countdown. A leap second is a one-second adjustment that is occasionally applied to Universal Time to account for variations in the earth’s rotation speed. The latest leap second happened June 30 this year.

A leap-second bug in 2012 caused computer problems with the Amadeus airline reservation system, triggering long lines and traveler delays at airports across Australia. More than 400 Qantas flights around Australia were delayed by at least two hours as staff switched to manual check-ins. The outage at Amadeus, one of the world’s major reservation systems, lasted about an hour but had a longer impact on air travelers and airline staff.

For more of a feel-good story, also check out Amerijet's discussion of modernizing its IT at a Data Center World conference put on by our sister company AFCOM. Senior director of technology Jennifer Torlone spoke about where the company was when she arrived on the scene and how it ultimately modernized its systems.

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