Delta’s operations suffered a significant IT lapse today. Ultimately hundreds of flights were cancelled and many more than that were delayed inconveniencing travelers across the globe.
On the one hand, this is hardly a new phenomenon. Technology programs have led to major issues for all of the 4 largest US airlines over the past 13 months.
- Two and a half weeks ago Southwest was forced to dump significant portions of its schedule for three days.
- American had its operations comprised by IT issues last September.
- And United’s operations melted down last July after IT issues. And that came after United suffered computer outages the month prior, not to mention in February 2014, November 2012, and August 2012. And of course United’s computer system integration in March 2012 created operational chaos as agents unfamiliar with the new systems had difficulty with missing reservations and telephone hold times backed up for hours.
On the other hand, Delta’s core selling proposition is its operational reliability. Delta filed to trademark the phrase ‘the on-time machine’ a claim American Airlines used to make in its late 1980s advertising.
Delta went so far as to stop interlining with American rather than accepting each others’ distressed passengers at industry rates — because Delta is so reliable they don’t need another airline’s network, and don’t want to help out a competitor. They continued to interline with United, under an agreement that has United paying more.
Even Delta’s early explanation reeked of hubris. They blamed a ‘power outage’ which many took to suggest was an external event, outside of their control. Several readers (and some media that contacted me) wondered ‘why an Atlanta power outage would cause this, and wouldn’t Delta have backup power?’
It turns out that the explanation, while technically true (their systems lost power) was misleading as Georgia Power made clear on Twitter.
Delta should be commended for getting their systems back up — first to get passengers checked in, and then to get flights out — quickly considering that the incident occurred around 2:30am Eastern time. They brought their operation back to the skies and did so safely.
But not only weren’t they candid about the problem, they stuck it to their customers with their approach to a travel waiver.
They allowed passengers who were supposed to travel today and today only to reschedule flights without penalty or additional fare only as long as they’re willing to fly this week.
- There will be residual effects of today’s outage felt in Delta’s operation tomorrow, as some aircraft remain out of place and as crew rest requirements as a result of tonight’s delayed flights push other flights to leave late tomorrow. But customers traveling on Tuesday get no reprieve to reschedule their trips.
- Even though having some folks traveling tomorrow push their trips to the future would give Delta extra seats needed to get stranded passengers from today’s outage to their destinations more quickly. (There’s little slack in a system running at about 85% capacity already.)
- Business travelers starting their week on a Monday can’t just start on Thursday or Friday. Meetings need to be rescheduled, and even leaving on Tuesday means losing of day of their week. A reasonable waiver would give them a do-over next week or the following.
Customers who were supposed to travel today can still have change fees waived if rebooking for travel beyond Friday however difference in fare will still be collected.
Anyone whose flights were delayed today should consult the benefits of the credit card used to purchase their tickets.
- Most premium cards and certainly most rewards cards offer coverage
- This will usually give you up to $500 towards the cost of hotel, meals, and related expenses you incur as a result of a flight delay
- Most cards require you to pay the full cost of a ticket on a card to qualify for coverage. Some (like Citi Prestige and Chase Sapphire Preferred) only require partial payment — which means award tickets are clearly covered, albeit only up to the amount charged.
- The length of delay required will vary as well, from a 4 hour delay [Citi Prestige] to an overnight delay or a 12 hour delay.
Ultimately while Delta’s CEO recorded an apology video and the airline updated its flight cancellation stats online throughout the day, it should have been more forthcoming with its customers about what happened (not started the day deflecting blame) and should have been more flexible with its customers as well (a travel waiver that extended to customers scheduled to fly on Tuesday, with a longer period in which to rebook travel).
Update: Monday night Delta extended their travel waiver to passengers scheduled to fly on Tuesday, still requiring that they fly by Friday to avoid paying an increase in fare.