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United Airlines Passengers Stranded By Computer Outage 74

From reader Peter McDermott comes word of a computer outage with effects to dwarf those of the one that stranded thousands of US Airways passengers last week. This time, it's United Airlines' systems that are out of commission and unable to handle passenger reservations, leaving passengers stranded all over the U.S. According to Peter, experiencing the resultant delays first-hand at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., United planes are being sent on — along with their passengers' luggage — to the cities from which they're to leave tomorrow morning, in anticipation of the computer system being fixed in the interim.
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United Airlines Passengers Stranded By Computer Outage

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  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @01:50AM (#36483176) Homepage

    Are the passengers getting their luggage shipped in the planes and not allowed to board or what's happening? As far as I know sending a plane with luggage for a passenger that hasn't boarded is against FAA rules.


    • They'll pull your luggage if you don't get on the flight, but it's not a hard or fast rule. Your luggage can leave on an earlier flight, sometimes it will follow you on a later flight. They fuck stuff up all the time.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by theNAM666 ( 179776 )

        It's pretty loose. I've not boarded flights after check-in quite a number of times-- from overbooked flights to having to email a document and missing boarding. My baggage has never been pulled in any of these circumstances. I frequently standby later or later in the day and see my baggage fly on the original flight. YMMV; I've flow 500K on two airlines, but don't think that anything but elite status really matters. US airports remain pathetically insecure -- if you can afford a full first fare,

    • by AmigaMMC ( 1103025 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @03:47AM (#36483636)

      Are the passengers getting their luggage shipped in the planes and not allowed to board or what's happening? As far as I know sending a plane with luggage for a passenger that hasn't boarded is against FAA rules.


      Not true, I work in the airline industry at an airport. The bag cannot be sent ahead of passenger by law only on international flights; on domestic flights it's not illegal to send a bag on a different flight, just not preferred.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        >Not true, I work in the airline industry at an airport. The bag cannot be sent ahead of passenger by law only on international flights
        That's not a hard rule either. I was trying to fly to Europe parent non-rev standby last Christmas and didn't get on the flight. They said they would return the bags to the baggage claim. They never came. When I checked the next day, the bags had been sent on another flight to Spain, then on to Greece...unaccompanied. I ended up cancelling the trip as everything was

      • Qantas have a few problems with their new Dallas/Fort worth to Australia route where they ship all the luggage by seperate flights via LAX. With the planes they've got on the route they can't carry enough fuel otherwise. It's a quick service though - passengers get to Australia so quickly they can beat their luggage there by up to two days :)
  • So, when will LulzSec admit that they wer behind this. I'm sure the airlines will never admit to being hacked.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I doubt LulzSec could pull of anything that would cripple the airport networks... more likely one of the FEPs finally gave up the ghost.

      • A few years back Northwest was taken offline for few days when a road crew accidentally dug into an unmarked fiber line. So maybe they cant do it digitally, but they can easily find maps of where the fiber is buried...

    • Just you watch. They will admit to being hacked, and then tack on a $25 per seat "Digital Ticket Security Initiative" fee.

    • by warGod3 ( 198094 )
      Are you kidding? The airlines will blame anyone they can in order to defer their incompetence unto another party, ESPECIALLY United.

      The last thing that an airline wants is for the public to lose confidence in them, so they'll blame lulz or anonymous or the Chinese... whichever will get them the most sympathy from the public.

  • At what point do you stop thinking of this as a glitch and start thinking of it as an attack?

    • by Sulphur ( 1548251 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @03:07AM (#36483458)

      At what point do you stop thinking of this as a glitch and start thinking of it as an attack?

      And if it is a cause of war, then how are you sure you were not spoofed?

      • And if it is a cause of war, then how are you sure you were not spoofed?

        Because you attack the people you wanted to in the first place.

    • by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @03:10AM (#36483474)
      Hm... if you want to get paranoid, perhaps Homeland Security requested some additional access rights on the airlines' computer systems and managed to foul up whatever they touched in the process?
      • Something like that actually did happen a few years back in a predictably incompetent way. A Homeland Security owned PC with a dodgy network card caused a packet storm at a US airport and could not be disconnected until an authorised Homeland Security person turned up some hours later. That put quite a few airline systems at that airport offline for those hours - I can't remember which airport it was (think it was in LA or San Francisco) but it was in the press at the time.
    • by Uteck ( 127534 )

      It's not a glitch or an attack, just the normal incompetence of the United IT management.

    • At what point do you stop thinking of this as a glitch and start thinking of it as an attack?

      When people start getting killed instead of inconvenienced.

      • I don't think you're looking at this in quite the correct way. Disrupting air travel in the US on a massive scale would be a serious economic blow. You don't have to actually kill people to do a lot of damage.

  • by MrQuacker ( 1938262 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @02:34AM (#36483320)

    Instead of getting an AI that just wants to outright kill us all, we got one that just wants to fuck with us...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, 2011 @02:37AM (#36483332)
    Airline mainframe of the size of an United are usually separated in several backends. One for the Reservation/Inventory & Ticketing and Scheduling, another for the OPS, check In, Weight and balance. Sometiems even more mainframe. Basically when you "book" you add your own PNR (passenger Name Recvord) to the invetory system thru the reservation system, this can happens directly with the airline own system, or a GDS system (think travel agency using Amadeus / Sabre), once the sales is done the ticketing system (for the own airline ticket stocks / travel agency use IATA stocks) generate the ticket, in the past paper ticket, nowaday mostly etickets. After that shortly before departure (24h to 28h) the RES system send the PNL (passenger Name List) to the GHS (groudn Handler system, can also be the airline own check in system, but can be a special firm asked to do it, airport systems, or a partner airline, for example United is checked-in by Lufthansa in Frankfurt, and vice versa the Check in is done by United for Lufthansa in the US) that GH system usually when it receives the PNL get the ticket ferom the ticketing database (either directly thru an itnern link, or using edifact message , namely the TKCREQ ground handling message).

    The reason I doubt this was the RES system, is that this would mean there would be *NO SALES* or *BOOKING* if it weas the RES system, where as flight would continueb to operate for 24h about. Whereas here the flight stopperd, but nothing is said about sales stopping. Therefore I can see a number of sub system stopping working : WAB, but for those usually you can have load sheets as work around, and unless the UA agent are kept dumb, they have that as work around. That could be MES , messaging, where the message (PNL & Edifact) don't go reach the GH place, but it is doubtful as this would mean that the glitch was yesterday.

    That leaves the check in system glitching , or the OPS system (the one handling the scheduled departure of flights). Seeing that the picture is a picture of a MANUAL boarding pass , I tend to think this was the check in system which failed. Anotehr evidence that this is the CHeck in of UA which failed and not the RES system , si that other origin which are NOT ground handled by UA , like FRA are working. Only the local check in from UA seems to be impacted.

    There are naturally work around that for a short time (manual boarding pass, paper PNL and check list) but those are short stop gp measure. I can imagine UA sending pax in hotel and getting this corrected / solved during the night.

    That was a little nitpick : RES from UA did not break, almost certainly CKI from UA broke (check in). That is as much a difference as Amazon warehouse and sales breaking , or their delivery service breaking. That said for the stranded Pax : no difference probably.
    • You are assuming RES and CKI are not on the same physical machine, that assumption may well be correct but is not a certainty. As to CKI breaking, that depends on whether you consider the processing of ticketless (paperless) bookings to be part of CKI. CKI breaking would just mean that ground staff would have to allocate seats manually, more serious is if the database saying who has paid for tickets is unavailable and that is what it looks like here.

      Best of luck guys. Been there, done that.

    • Sunday morning: Still down.

      They can book people on flights and move them even from one flight to another, so it isn't RES
      But before boarding they have to manually re-enter the passenger data...

  • This regularly happens [google.com] to Virgin in Australia.

  • Isn't that also known as "business as usual"? Their most frequent customers wouldn't even notice.

    I've only flown United twice. The first time there was a 5 hour delay. The second time there was a 3 hour delay. So today's delay sounds par for the course.

    • After spending 36 hours in DIA (Denver Intl Airport) due to a spring snowstorm that shut down the entire airport, I will never again fly United if I can help it and DIA (United's major western hub) is to be avoided at all costs.

      The most demoralizing thing in the world is to wake up from a night sleeping on the airport floor and watch freshly scrubbed local customers board the plane that you could not fly out of town the night before. That's right: United dumped all (paid, booked) passengers from our previ

      • I'm no United fan, but what would you have them do? Cascade the delays for two days and impact 600 customers instead of the 99 already impacted? Sucks for you of course, but I'm not sure there was a better option (assuming there wasn't alternative metal sitting around unused -- which is unlikely).

        • by rmcd ( 53236 ) *

          The "better option" that the airlines almost never take is to book you on another airline. Of course, that would cost them money as opposed to making you wait for an empty seat, which costs them almost nothing.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          Run with enough reserve capacity that the whole house of cards doesn't tumble down due to a single incident? Develop a cooperative agreement with other airlines to pool some excess capacity (to keep the costs down)?

          At least be prepared to offer better than sleep on the floor like a dog and scavenge for peanut packs if there is a delay?

          Perhaps have a secondary hub and switch the routes to use it if there's any significant threat of problems at the primary? Sometimes snow storms can be surprising, but there's

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          The better option is to have 5% capacity in reserve. If a flight is canceled the night before and can fly the next day, then fly it the next day. When you try to operate at 100% all the time, you leave no ability to absorb any mishaps. But the flight schedules at the airport are full and the schedules for the flight crews and airplanes as full as the law will let them go.
        • Come back and talk to me after you've endured a night on the floor in DIA, and then wake up in the morning and realize that you are literally trapped in the airport, with no foreseeable way home.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Exactly that, because it gives those others plenty of time to consider other options. That's how competant airlines appear to do it; an informed delay and a sweetener that costs them almost nothing but keeps the customers happy of some extra frequent flyer points. You get time to change your plans.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... to make a really big mess, you need computers.

  • Must be karma for booting a passenger off Flight 488 earlier in the week for wearing baggy pants [sfgate.com]. They must be too busy acting as fashion police than to be concerned with their IT infrastructure. Accompanying YouTube video to the above: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOQI_FhKbw0 [youtube.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was waiting for my mother on a flight from Dallas to Denver. They could not tell me if the plane was delayed, if it was canceled, if it arrived. I waited 2 hours and finally the general airport screens removed the flight from arrivals (still with 2 hour previous expected time). The United people could not even tell me the flight was canceled. Finally I reached my mother as she had just returned home. Supposedly they will automagically reschedule every flight and call with new flight details. That was 4 1/
    • I was stuck in O'Hare for about 4 hours last night waiting on a flight to Vancouver - they finally got around the whole mess at midnight by the startling notion of using a clipboard and a booking list and then carefully checking everyone's ID. Shockingly this worked quite well.
  • "The big decision is in: United Airlines plans to wean itself off its decades-long reservations-system provider, Travelport’s Apollo, and to migrate its reservations to HP’s SHARES system in 2012". link [tnooz.com]

    "The Apollo reservation system used by United Airlines was down worldwide for at least four hours Tuesday", Jan 2006 link [internetnews.com]

  • Did United outsource their IT?

  • time to dump the old terminal system and move to a new system you can keep the old look and feel if that easier on the people useing the system and slowly work in a new GUI.

  • by formfeed ( 703859 ) on Sunday June 19, 2011 @09:25AM (#36490642)

    I was checking on a flight this morning and according to United's site it left a minute late. In reality it was almost an hour.

    While United didn't have the delay listed, both flightstats and flightaware did. So the information is available, United just doesn't want to share it with anyone. - Or do they use their own website, to prove your flight was on time?

  • First they went after the free drinks
    and I didn't speak out, because I don't care much about getting drunk on a plane.

    Then they came for mothers traveling with strollers
    and I didn't speak out, because I hate the kicking children sitting behind me.

    Then they came for the guitars
    and I didn't speak out, because I didn't care about Canadians.

    Now they're coming for me and this is really unfair.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter