Computer troubles freeze United Airlines' system, bringing a cascade of delays

Many travelers using United Airlines faced delays Tuesday when the airline's computer network crashed, leaving large parts of its system paralyzed for several hours.
Many travelers using United Airlines faced delays Tuesday when the airline's computer network crashed, leaving large parts of its system paralyzed for several hours. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Many travelers using United Airlines faced delays Tuesday when the airline's computer network crashed, leaving large parts of its system paralyzed for several hours Tuesday afternoon.

First noted around 2:15 p.m. ET, the problems persisted until about 6:30 p.m. ET, when the airline tweeted that it is "in the process of resuming operations and rebooking customers."

The snarl of airline traffic led the Federal Aviation Association to halt arrivals at airports in Newark, N.J., Houston, and San Francisco. The order to stop those arrivals has now been lifted, according to The Florida News Journal.

News of the outage spread quickly via Twitter and other outlets. The FAA said that problems affecting United's airport computers seemed to be largely resolved by 5:30 p.m. ET, but many passengers will see their travels disrupted well into Tuesday night — particularly with many Gulf Coast-area airports closed due to Hurricane Isaac.

United's main website was down for part of Tuesday afternoon. At 6:05 p.m. ET, the airline tweeted, "The website is up, but not fully functional." The message also thanked passengers for their patience. Elsewhere on Twitter, passengers were reporting offers to book new flights at no added cost.

According to NPR's David Schaper, the problems stemmed from the airline's reservation and booking system. But because the same system also controls boarding passes, flight check-in and other functions, the outage had a widespread effect that left United passengers stranded at many airports.

In Denver, where the city's airport is one of United's main hubs, The Denver Post's Kristen Leigh Painter spoke to several people who had been stranded. One was Bruce Rehburg, a passenger who said he'd been sitting on a plane in Houston's airport for more than an hour and a half.

"The pilot told passengers that he knows the computer is safe and ready for takeoff, but the technology is locked," Painter writes. "'We are ready to go, and now in the age of computers, we can't take off,' Rehburg said."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio.

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