A glitch in United Airlines’ dispatch system software resulted in hundreds of delayed flights across the country, raising doubts about the airline in the week before the busy Thanksgiving travel period. The two-hour system outage on November 15 was the latest in a series of computing problems that have raised concerns about the airline’s business operations, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The software issue affected the system United uses to communicate information such as weight and fuel loads to pilots before flights. Airline spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said the issue was fixed during the two hour delay period and will not happen again. Nonetheless, United has faced credibility issues since March as a result of computer problems, the Tribune noted. In particular, a glitch resulting from a passenger reservation system switch in March caused service interruptions, as did a network outage in August.
The Tribune added that Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Continental Holdings, has repeatedly apologized for the company’s problems. In a call with financial analysts, Smisek said that the airline’s third-quarter profits suffered due to passengers choosing competitors. Smisek also claimed the company’s problems are in the past, and airline representatives said United met its target of 80 percent of flights arriving on time in October. However, some analysts believe United’s software problems may be damaging its credibility and undermining consumer trust.
“It is flat-out unacceptable,” Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, told the Chicago Tribune. “This makes United a laughingstock among airlines.”
Harteveldt called for change at the executive level, noting that this type of computing problem stems from strategic error. The Washington Post reported that United’s stock price fell 2.4 percent the day of the glitch. Given the business cost of such errors, airlines may want to consider a more robust software development process that uses tools such as source code analysis to catch errors in advance. The Economist noted that the system outage was particularly embarrassing given the fact that IT leadership at United knew customers and press would be watching the company
closely following previous mistakes.
“If these sorts of issues continue, United deserves to lose customers, and probably will,” The Economist wrote. “Nobody is going to fly with an airline that repeatedly cancels flights on clear days because it can’t get its computers to work.”
Software news brought to you by Klocwork Inc., dedicated to helping software developers create better code with every keystroke.