Travelers Hit “Bumps in the Road” as 
Major Airlines Experience Widespread Downtime Issues

Travelling is stressful in and of itself. When traveling, you commonly get to look forward to long lines for checking in your luggage, longer lines to weave your way through security (while waiting for the people in front of you to get their shoes back on), and trying to time everything just right so that you can make it to your gate on time to board your flight without waiting at that gate for hours. Widespread downtime that could cause delays and add stress to the travel experience are not something that any traveler wants to deal with. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in April, as airline customers and employees alike dealt with short-lived but extremely frustrating incidents that resulted in widespread downtime and resulting delays. Worse yet, it happened on more than one occasion in the very same month.

First, It’s Aerodata, Then It’s Sabre

Last month was not a good month for airlines in the United States. First, Sabre, a company that many major airlines use to process reservations and print tickets, experienced downtime that affected travelers. The outage hit a number of major airlines including American Airlines, Jet Blue, WestJet, Southwest, Delta, and Alaska Air. Then later on in the month, those same airlines were affected again when a system-wide computer outage was caused due to problems with the Aerodata planning weight and balance program (a third-party non-FAA system that airlines utilize to determine the plane’s weight and balance that is necessary for takeoff).

Short but Not Sweet

Fortunately, the outages were not long-lived. Unfortunately, even with the downtime being resolved quickly in both instances, customers were impacted significantly. In some cases, the outages caused flight delays and some planes that were already taxiing for takeoff had to stop and return to their gates. Southwest, for example, implemented an internal ground stop for 40 minutes as a result of one of the outages. Some carriers experienced scattered flight delays throughout the rest of the day during each of these outages. The continued flight delays were caused by the outages creating a domino effect, delaying flights well past the time the outage had been resolved. Delays, however, weren’t the only frustration travelers experienced during this time. During the Sabre outage, customers who were trying to make reservations or print tickets were also affected, running into frustrating error messages and being unable to complete their tasks.

Good Communication

While any “bump in the road” equates to unnecessary added stress for travelers, the airlines did do a good job of keeping in touch with consumers via social media and customer service. That is not to say that good customer service or timely updates via social media can compensate for the frustration of a flight delay, but at least the communication allowed consumers to see that the airlines did indeed care about the affect the outages were having on their customers and that they were working to resolve the problems. In terms of explaining why the outages happened, the airlines couldn’t control the level of detail since both outages were caused by third parties. While the FAA was very clear in what caused the delays with the Aerodata outage, Sabre was not as forthcoming with information (although they did apologize and acknowledge that no amount of downtime is acceptable).

Hopefully a Less Turbulent Future

These two instances may be extreme examples, but they are perfect examples of how third-party software and services can have a drastic impact on your business and, as a result, a drastic impact on your customers’ experiences when doing business with you. As such, it is crucial that you understand how to safeguard your site from third-party software problems. Failures due to third-party website software and services, when aggregated, now make third party software and solutions the second-most common reason given for IT service failures. In light of this, you want to make sure you only partner with third-party providers who have a proven track record of consistent uptime and that you never implement third-party software that could wreak havoc on your site’s performance or uptime standards. If we can learn anything from the airline experiences that occurred in April, it’s that the more you rely on third parties for your website’s features and functionality, the more risk you run in terms of encountering unplanned periods of costly downtime.