This morning’s computer outage at United caused delays for about 5000 flights. With planes out of position, and some crew likely to hit maximum duty hours, the effects will last through tomorrow.
The FAA instituted a ground stop at about 8:30 Eastern this morning, but lifted it for United Express flights after 15 minutes. It was in place for ~ 80 minutes for United mainline aircraft.
Delays though were generally longer than the ordered ground stop and it took time to bring operations back to speed.
This morning I told the Associated Press‘ Scott Mayerowitz,
“We don’t know everything behind this morning’s issues yet, but today’s incident underscores the sense that something is very wrong at United,” said Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent-flier website MilePoint.
United suffered computer outages last month, 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.
Coming off a June in which the airline’s on-time performance was materially worse than American’s and Southwest’s (and not just leaders Delta and Alaska) — and since this is another in a long string of computer failures that have paused operations at the airline over the past three years (things happen at all airlines, they just seem to happen more often with United) — it’s beginning to feel like there’s something wrong operationally with the airline.
All of these events may be completely unconnected. I’m skeptical that I’m hearing the full story on the day of an event, so wouldn’t suggest that today’s outage (which may have been related to “a router” and we’ll eventually learn whether United’s outage was related to other outages today in the Northeast such as the New York Stock Exchange) is related to last month’s problems. Or that it’s related to last month’s on-time performance, which Cranky Flier suggests is driven by a mechanics’ job action.
United could be the victim of a string of bad luck, where these things happen to them more often than others out of random coincidence. It does seem, though, like United’s made their own bad luck.
A year ago the airline lost half a billion dollars in a quarter. The price of oil dropping probably saved Jeff Smisek’s job as CEO though they made very bad commodities futures bets as well and United’s operating margins still lag the rest of the industry.
The airline has finally been playing catchup on inflight wireless internet and investing in onboard and lounge product, but right now at least it appears they’re continuing to fail to get the basics right.
I never did learn what caused Continental’s board to push CEO Larry Kellner out — legendary Gordon Bethune’s hand-picked successor — but it was that move which put Smisek at the top just as Continental took over United.
Continental had been seen at the time as the best operational carrier in the industry, so in many ways just what United needed. It hasn’t worked out that way. And 15 years since United’s pilot slowdown that became known as “the Summer From Hell” I have to wonder whether the airline has gotten better in that time or not.