Delta glitch highlights vulnerability of airlines’ aged IT systems

REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

The latest on beloved former hometown airline Delta’s computer problems: For the Wall Street Journal, Susan Carey says, “The technical problems likely will cost Delta millions of dollars in lost revenue and damage its hard-won reputation as the most reliable of the major U.S.-based international carriers, having canceled just a handful of flights in the most recent quarter. The meltdown highlights the vulnerability in Delta’s computer system, and raises questions about whether a recent wave of four U.S. airline mergers that created four large carriers controlling 85 percent of domestic capacity has built companies too large and too reliant on IT systems that date from the 1990s.”

For Motherboard, Madison Margolin asks a couple basic questions. “It’s not totally clear what’s behind the computer failure that’s plagued Delta Airlines since 2:30 AM on Monday morning. Delta calls it a power outage, while Georgia Power, the utility at Delta’s Atlanta hub, calls it an internal computer glitch. The question is, why wasn’t there backup behind the malfunction? ‘The complexity of the system is a crucial factor in its failure,’ said Ahmed Abdelghany, who studies aviation IT systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in an interview with Wired. Airline computer systems often function via multiple layers, with data coming from diverse and often aging sources that are might be too expensive to update.” That’s reassuring.

Oh, and this is not good for shareholder value. Sara Sjolin for MarketWatch reports, “Delta Air Lines Inc. is offering $200 travel vouchers to passengers affected by two days of severe cancellations and delays, but they may have to splash out three times more to travelers leaving Europe. … For flights longer than 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles), passengers whose flights are canceled or delayed more than three hours are entitled to the top bracket of $665 in compensation.

And, couldn’t they have found this lady a bed? Sara Pelissero, USA Today and Lauren Leamanczyk of KARE-TV report, “A 92-year-old woman spent the night on the floor of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Tuesday night, as the fall-out from Delta’s outage resulting in hundreds of cancellations rolled into a third day. … The 92-year-old from Saskatoon, Canada was on her way home from a sorority conference in Kansas City. Gaunt and her friends made it to Minneapolis but got stranded when Delta canceled their flight. There was no offer to put them up in a hotel.” Like I say: beloved.

This is shameful, for lack of a better word. Chris Serres of the Strib reports, “Hundreds of Minnesotans with mental health problems are languishing in hospital psychiatric units for weeks, even months, because they have nowhere to go for less intensive care, according to a comprehensive study to be released this week. As a result, private hospitals are absorbing millions of dollars in unreimbursed costs, while patients who are well enough to be released are being deprived more appropriate care at a fraction of the cost.”

Last night’s rain didn’t hurt … unless it did. Alison Rice for AgWeb says, “Minnesota’s crop ratings have been running extremely high all season, leaving many to wonder if the state is working on another record crop. Agronomists say while ratings may be similar to 2015, it will be tough to break the record as the soybeans didn’t get off to as good a start. … ‘I would still be fairly close to last year, but not quite there,’ said Jack Brodshaug, a DeKalb/Asgrow agronomist. ‘While weed and insect pressure has been light so far, there’s still the possibility of disease.’” Or an asteroid.

On the rain, the Strib was saying, “Flooding occurred in a wide swath, including Hwy. 21 in Scott County, along Hwy. 62 at Penn Avenue in the central metro and near the Roseville Commons area. Some drivers pulled over when puddles got dangerously deep and visibility went to nearly zero in the pouring rain.”

WCCO-TV has a story saying, “A 19-year-old Wisconsin woman is dead after a crash on Interstate 35 Wednesday afternoon in Steele County. … The victim, from Delano, Wisconsin, was driving a PT Cruiser southbound on the interstate when one of her rear tires blew out, causing her to lose control. She hit the median, causing the Cruiser to split in half. A pickup truck, an SUV and a Harley motorcycle collided with one half of the car, while the other half came to rest in the northbound lanes.”

Nothing to be proud of. Ricardo Lopez of the Strib says, “Unofficial estimates by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office showed that Tuesday’s primary election notched very low turnout. Just over 280,000 voters cast ballots, roughly 7 percent of eligible voters. There are nearly 3.97 million eligible voters in Minnesota.  Secretary of State Steve Simon blamed the absence of statewide races and the August date for the election as two reasons for the low turnout.”

A lot of national publications picked up the story of Ilhan Omar. Among them was Voice of America, whose Mohammed Hassan writes, “Wiping away tears, Omar was greeted by Somali and non-Somali supporters as she walked into her victory party, and chants of ‘Ilhan’ rang out. Speaking to the crowd, Omar said, ‘Tonight we made history and it marks the beginning of the future of our district, a new era of representation. Tonight is about the power of you’. Afterward, she gave another victory speech in Somali. Hafsa Muse Nuh, one of Omar’s supporters said, ‘It is an amazing moment which I was expecting. The fact that she is a Muslim, a Somali, a refugee makes her victory historic.’ “

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by John Roberts on 08/11/2016 - 01:09 pm.

    Delta’s System Problems

    Interesting to note that through out this situation, the IBM Mainframes on site continued to tick along, as if nothing happened. A modern, robust and world-class computer. Way to go!

  2. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/11/2016 - 01:19 pm.

    Delta

    I’ve been keeping an eye on the Delta situation through a few tech forums I subscribe to. It seems they did a monthly backup generator test that didn’t go well, to say the least. It sounds like the generator caught fire and the fire department had to cut power to the building before they could put it out. I’m sure the facility has a robust UPS system, but that will only keep 500+ servers running for 45 minutes or so–just enough time to get them shut down gracefully.

    The real question is why didn’t Delta have a hot site that can be spun up in short order. If this data center really is that critical, then they should have one on standby. Right now I’m betting the CIO wishes he had budgeted for one.

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