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August 9, 2016
Airline System Outages
Happen a Lot More than You Think

Delta Airlines continues to encounter disruptions Aug. 9, a day after a system outage prompted a worldwide ground stop.

This outage shows the problem in Delta’s computer system and these glitches happen a lot more than you think. Monday's computer crash came about three weeks after a computer outage at Southwest Airlines which led to the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights. In May, JetBlue’s computer issues forced passengers to be checked in manually at some airports.

Part of the problem is the IT systems date from the 1990s.  
These systems—which run everything from flight dispatching to crew scheduling, passenger check-in, airport-departure information displays, ticket sales and frequent-flier programs—gradually have been updated but are still vulnerable, IT experts say.

The airlines, by building layers upon layers of systems -- each one with a different configuration and a different purpose -- accidentally create the possibility of something going wrong in their computer networks.

Their disaster recovery systems should have worked but they did not. Ironically, it is widely believed that this happened to Delta during testing of their back-up systems during downtime in air traffic and although the system probably performed normally every test before, in this case it completely failed and wouldn’t work with backup generators.

Airline experts and Gil Hecht, founder and chief executive of Continuity Software, an expert in computer disaster recovery, say there are three main reasons why systems go down.

1) No redundancy. An airline might have chosen not to protect itself with a backup system. That's unlikely for a major carrier like Delta.

2) Hacking. The crash was caused by a malicious attacker. That's not likely the cause of Monday's Delta computer failure, said Hecht, because a malicious hack into Delta's system would probably have been isolated and the system would have been brought back to life more quickly, he said.

3) Human error. Layers and layers of systems that pile up over time create some kind of glitch and suddenly the whole thing comes crashing down. That's the most likely explanation for Delta.

Meanwhile we can't go back to paper check-ins during an emergency like this. It's just not feasible anymore, experts say -- especially on international flights -- because airline computers are linked to security networks like government No Fly Lists and visa document systems.

So what can airlines do to prevent these computer failures from happening so often?
They can install more automated checkup systems. They can perform emergency drills by taking their systems offline during slow periods and going to their secondary and backup systems to make sure they are working properly.

Confirm flights with your provider before leaving for the airport. Do not check out of hotels before confirming onward transportation. Arrive at the airport well in advance of scheduled departure times if flying on Delta Aug. 9; long lines are likely at curbside and terminal check-in counters. Flights on alternative airlines will overbook rapidly; confirm these flights as well.

Sources include, but are not limited to: CNN Money, Mashable, Travel & Leisure, iJET International

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