There were a lot of annoyed Delta Air Lines travelers hanging around Reagan National Airport on Monday after a systemwide computer outage caused widespread delays and cancellations.
Several of them had one question on their minds for Delta’s chief executive: Couldn’t you maybe have run down to Home Depot for a generator? And did you not have your computer backed up, or what?
Delta canceled 427 flights after a power outage of some kind occurred about 2:30 a.m. and knocked out its computers. At first, the airline’s public statements gave the impression that all of Atlanta’s lights had gone out. But Georgia Power told our colleague Andrea Peterson that, no, the power problem appeared to affect just one utility customer: Delta.
“I apologize for the challenges this has created for you,” Delta chief executive Ed Bastian said in a video posted around 2 p.m. on Delta’s Twitter account. Delta’s boss said employees were working around the clock to restore service.
Several travelers were not surprised to hear that Delta’s computers went down. Hassles with computers seem inevitable. They were just surprised that one of the world’s largest corporations hasn’t found a more reliable way to keep operations running after a computer glitch, and that the consequences can be so massive.
Delta’s blackout comes about a month after Southwest Airlines and United Airlines went haywire after their computers crashed. On July 20, Southwest canceled about 2,000 flights and delayed more than 7,000 more over the following three days because of a router failure, the Associated Press reported. United Airlines’ wings were clipped July 8 when that carrier reported systemwide computer problems, according to news media reports. All flights were grounded worldwide for two hours.
David Lee, 59, a dentist whose visit to the Washington, D.C., metro area dragged on unexpectedly because of Delta’s glitch Monday, said he was disappointed and confused about the snafu that delayed his flight back to Los Angeles by at least three hours.
“I’m very surprised this is computer-related,” Lee said. “I’m sorry, I hate to say this – but this is very Third World country. … We think we are hotshots and we know everything, and there are so many little things that might happen.”
Lee said it took more than a half-hour for a Delta employee to unsnarl his itinerary. And that was after the passenger in front of him had a meltdown after being informed he’d be having to spend the night in Miami before continuing overseas. For Lee, it just meant arriving home three or four hours late and canceling a meeting of dentists he was supposed to attend.
“It does seem kind of odd that something like this could shut you down,” said Tammy Hermanson, 46, a travel agent from Madison, Wis., who was returning home after a visit to the nation’s capital. The outage delayed her flight about an hour, she said. The one upside, she said, was that at least none of her clients was flying.
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do. It’s a computer,” Hermanson said. “It just shows you everyone is susceptible.”
It’s true that no one besides HAL 9000’s creators in “2001: A Space Odyssey” has built the perfect computer or written the infallible software program yet. But the more we entrust our lives to computers, the more you have to wonder why major companies don’t have redundancy built on top of redundancy to ensure that things still work when something goes wrong.
“Very crazy” is how Mecca Fowler described her travels with Delta on Monday.
Fowler, 24, an insurance adjuster who lives in Richmond, Va., was still waiting for her luggage to arrive Monday afternoon at National Airport after her flight home from Las Vegas had been disrupted that morning.
Her flight landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where she was handed a voucher for a taxi to LaGuardia Airport to catch a flight there for the next leg to D.C., Fowler said. She said the most frustrating part of the experience was the chaos. One airline employee would tell her one thing, and then another employee would tell her something different, she said.
“You always hear about these things in the news. And you never think it’s going to happen to you,” Fowler said.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Fredrick Kunkle