Travel Log: Dependence on Technology

June 22, 2011

A computer crash at United Airlines grounding flights recently across the nation and to Europe magnifies the growing dependence of airlines on high tech communications. It highlights as well the relative fragility of tried and true computer systems. It also showed that not very much needs to take place to disrupt air travel throughout continental United States.

A computer crash at United had the type of ripple effect that a tsunami has when a giant wave created by the earthquake builds and then comes ashore in the form of giant, powerful wave far away from the epicenter.

United never expected the difficulties that arose when its computer system crashed shortly after midnight on Saturday, June 18.

Thousands of flyers were stranded in airports across the country as a result of the airline’s computers crashing.

By Sunday evening that weekend, United announced that service was resuming all over the nation.

United’s computers were coming back online, the company said.

The computer crash interrupted departures. It ruined its reservations entries and disrupted the airline’s sophisticated website.

In a bit of electronic irony, Twitter was the airline’s choice of notifying its patrons and others in the media and the industry when its computers went down.

According to United spokesman Charles Hobart, the computer problems began at 7:15 p.m. Central Daylight Time.

The airline apparently blamed the incident on a network connectivity issue.

The computer crash lasted only 5 hours, according to a report in PC World, the authoritative voice of the computer industry.

But even though United’s computer system was restored to service by 1 a.m., the airline was experiencing enormous logistical problems which lingered for days.

The airline cancelled 16 flights early in the weekend and 15 more on Saturday.

The cancellations impacted thousands of travelers.

United flyers were urged to use the company’s website or the respective websites used by those flying on other airlines when purchasing tickets.

In a related incident that affected hundreds of flyers with US Air, a power outage at US Air’s facility in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday June 19 caused major delays that lasted for hours.

When the power went down, US Air’s computers went down.

This forced US Air employees to write boarding passes and to ticket bags by hand.

US Air officials said they didn’t know what caused the power outage.

One official blames it on severe thunderstorms that passed through the region shortly before the outage occurred.