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The Delta outage: the chaotic impact

Delta outage

Image courtesy of www.chicagotribune.com

The Delta Outage – August 2016

If you’re training to become a commercial pilot at our flight schools in Florida  and Tennessee,  you’ll soon learn about the delicate art of flight schedules – and what happens if they don’t go to plan!  Last week’s Delta outage was a case in point…

Delta Air Lines hit the headlines last week after a technical problem left airplanes grounded and thousands of passengers stranded.  And unfortunately for those passengers – and Delta – an outage can impact an airline’s flight schedules for days after the event.

It all began in the early morning of August 8.  A critical power control module malfunctioned at Delta’s technology command center, leading to a surge to the transformer.  This surge caused a loss of power, and although only momentary, the impact was huge.

Although some of Delta’s systems automatically switched over to backups, a number of other critical systems and equipment failed to do so.  It was the customer service systems that were mainly affected, which were responsible for managing check-ins, boarding and dispatching aircraft.

As a result, more than 2,100 flights were canceled and many more delayed in the days to follow. Despite predictions that flights would be back on schedule by Wednesday 10 August, flights were still being canceled on Thursday.  Tens of thousands of passengers found themselves stranded at airports, either waiting on the tarmac or being forced to spend hours waiting for updates in the terminal.

Days of chaos

So how can a momentary outage on a Monday still have an effect four days later?  There are a number of reasons:

  1. As one of the country’s four major carriers, Delta’s passenger traffic is huge, so any problems affect a huge number of people.
  2. As with all carriers, Delta has done its best to cut costs and meet demand by filling aircraft to capacity and scheduling as many flights as possible within a short turnaround period. For every hour of delays and cancellations, a huge backlog – and a bigger problem – is created.
  3. As airline computer systems are now responsible for everything from booking tickets and assigning seats, to managing loyalty schemes and sending customer emails, there’s a lot to pick up when they go down.
  4. Delays and cancellations mean flight crews and planes don’t end up where they should be later in the schedule, leading to further delays and cancellations.
  5. In order to observe legal requirements, flight crews can only be on duty for a limited time. As Delta COO Gil West said last week, “Multiplied across tens of thousands of pilots and flight attendants and thousands of scheduled flights, rebuilding rotations is a time-consuming process.”

Delta will also carry financial burdens from this outage, having promised $200 in vouchers to customers who were delayed for three hours or more – and that’s a lot of customers!  Investigations will continue as to why the systems failed to switch over to backups, with questions asked over investment in vital infrastructure.

Luckily, problems like the Delta outage are a rarity for airlines, but remind us how much we rely on things going to plan!

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