Delta Airline on the runway

Image courtesy of YouTube

Delta Outage Forces Hundreds
of Flight Cancellations

| published August 8, 2016 |

By Thursday Review staff

A massive computer crash impacted one of the world’s largest airlines, grounding departing flights worldwide on Monday while engineers and computer technicians worked to restore the company’s database.

Delta Airlines, the second-largest commercial airliner in the U.S. and third largest in the world, suffered what it described early on Monday as “a global network outage,” a computer system crash which caused all departing flights worldwide to be delayed until the glitch could be identified and fixed. The computer outage affected even the check-in process at most airports, and impacted the way which most passengers sought confirmation of tickets and schedules online.

Delta said that the computer crash was the result of a power outage which impacted some areas of Atlanta, Georgia—including Delta’s headquarters in Atlanta—on Monday morning. The first indications of the computer and power failure came at about 2:30 a.m., but the problems quickly escalated, creating a domino effect and toppling Delta’s mainframe and aging ticketing systems. By 5:00 a.m. hundreds of planes were being forced to stay on the ground, and by midmorning the problem had spread worldwide.

Though Delta initially said the computer crash would impact nearly all departures, with flights already en route on Monday would proceed normally, in the end a few flights were able to take off despite the lack of computers. The company stressed there were no safety or security risks to passengers.

On social media, in digital media venues, and on its website, Delta said that its “systems were down everywhere.” The company at first did not specify if the computer network outage was the result of hacking, malware or a virus, or it the crash was the result of hardware or software failures. Only later in the day did Delta link the system failure to a power outage.

Delta was advising its passengers to check all flight times by phone until the problem could be resolved. The delays could affect as many as 25,000 travelers during Monday. The company said that passengers who experienced delays of more than three hours would be eligible for a $200 rebate.

The computer crash and power glitch came at a bad time for Delta, which reported lower-than-expected earnings in the last two quarters. Delta, like several other major U.S. carriers, has also suffered this spring and summer from tens of thousands of flight delays, missed flights and cancellations due to extremely long lines at airports, where security and baggage screeners have been overworked, and where—in some cases—airlines themselves had to lend personnel to speed up a process which provoked a government investigation and cost airports and airlines millions in revenue.

Aviation experts worry that Delta’s Monday computer failure and outage is a harbinger of some potential problems in the immediate future. Many airline computer and data systems—including those of Delta—were developed in the late 1980s and installed in the early 1990s. IT experts also point out that many of these systems run without adequate power protection and without substantial hardware or software back-up.

Georgia Power, which is owned by the Southern Company, said that the problem was with a switchbox—a router which controls the flow of current through certain facilities and buildings in and around the Atlanta airport. That switchbox is what triggered the computer crash and what catapulted what might have remained a minor or localized failure into a global network crash. Georgia Power disputed Delta's broad explanation of a wider power outage, telling readers on its website that the power problem was related only to the area around Delta's main hub, and that no other areas of Atlanta or northern Georgia were impacted.

As a result of the computer outage, Delta, according to its company website, cancelled some 760 flights; at least 850 other flights were delayed by more than two hours.

Georgia Power said that it received the initial call to respond to Delta's power and computer problem at 2:40 a.m., about ten minutes after the switchbox failure and the initial computer crash. Delta was advising customers to expect flight delays stretching into most of Tuesday as the airline and major airports attempt to catch-up.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Boeing May Cut Up to 8000 Airplane Jobs; Keith Roberts; Thursday Review; March 31, 2016.

Which is the Busiest Airport?; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; March 29, 2015.