Airline software screw ups

Airline software screw ups (Peter PZ on flickr)

Yesterday's American Airlines software screw up is a harsh reminder to the airline industry that one glitch can take down the whole airline, not just one flight.

Over 400 American Airlines flights were grounded yesterday due to a failure to connect with the online booking system in place, Sabre. Over the last 30 years, the increased computerisation of the airline industry has brought obvious benefits but not without major risk. Despite their purpose to reduce security risks, there is always a risk of the technology failing us…

Looking back at other software failures, the first reported case was Spirit Airlines in 2001. In the changeover to the new booking system, passengers were left stranded in airports all over the world due to cancelled flights and delays from the East Coast and Midwest.

In 2004, Delta Airlines computer glitch resulted in the grounded of flights out of Atlanta extending up to Salt Lake City. This was due to a breakdown in data that calculates weight and balance of the plane based on passenger information.

In recent years, mergers have been the main cause of software failure. United Airlines being the example in question when they adopted Continentals's software. Despite meticulous planning, technical issues reared their ugly heads. Between slow check ins and messed up luggage, the longest weekend for United was still ahead of them.

What can we learn from these mistakes? Not much apparently. That the majority of the time the software works perfectly. However, it's that tiny amount of time that it doesn't work that causes the huge headaches for companies like American Airlines. Despite this, software companies are there to make things easier for passengers and for airlines alike, and we can't fault them for that right?

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