America’s third-largest airline in terms of passengers, aircraft fleet and nationwide coverage, United Airlines, suffered a reservation system failure on Tuesday, exacerbating a problem caused by bad weather. This caused delays and cancellations of flights around the country. The system outage paralyzed operations early Tuesday morning even as airline officials cancelled over 700 flights and delayed over 4,400 more as the passenger reservation system that issues boarding passes and baggage tags was down for over three hours. The delays and cancellations continued with more than 1600 United and United Express flights arriving behind schedule and thousands of passengers stranded at airline counters across the nation.
United Airlines’ reservation system failure comes in the wake of adverse weather conditions that have affected air traffic across the Eastern seaboard with heavy snowfall closing airports. United Airlines has had a turbulent year since the airline migrated to a new reservation system that it shares with sister carrier Continental Airlines. The system shutdown saw immediate reaction from several stranded and delayed passengers from New York to California. United Airlines spokesperson Jennifer Dohm said, “This morning [Tuesday] we experienced intermittent issues with our passenger service computer system, causing some flight delays. We are working to get our customers to their destinations as soon as possible.”
The airline’s latest failure comes in the wake of the system’s previous failure in 2012 and a website error in September 2013 that resulted in hundreds of flights being delayed and severe customer backlash on social media channels, such as Twitter. A programming glitch in 2012 had resulted in the incorrect calculation of frequent flier miles and the incorrect pricing and issue of first-class tickets to Hong Kong. The incident caused further embarrassment to the company when customer service representatives and officials did not honor the incorrectly priced tickets, resulting in severe customer backlash. United customers were no less vocal with the airline’s latest infarction on Tuesday, with the glitch-ridden system acting up for the fourth time in as many years. Some customers who managed to bring printed copies of their boarding passes were saved the trouble of having to endure long lines at the ticketing counters, but were hampered by inclement weather that slowed operations to a crawl, while grounding several important outbound flights.
As flight operations at United Airlines limp back to normal, there is still doubt over how the weather system over the east coast will play out and how it will impact continued operations. In addition to system failures, United Airlines suffered the ire of the media and customers on Monday when United Flight 1676 had to send three of its crew and two passengers to the hospital after severe air turbulence left at least one crew member on the Montana-bound flight unconscious. The failure of United Airline’s reservation system has only compounded the airline’s problems as the weather causes delays and cancellations of thousands of flights across the United States. However, while bad weather conditions continue to affect other airlines also, United’s unique combination of chronic system issues may see several customers move to competing airlines.
By Grace Stephen
The Wall Street Journal