Travellers on Southwest Airlines had a very bad day yesterday, as hundreds of flights were delayed in the United States.
The reason? Apparently a computer glitch caused approximately 500 flights to suffer delays, as staff struggled to check-in customers, and were forced to handwrite boarding passes.
In a statement, Southwest Airlines described how it was having technical issues affecting its website, mobile app and at its call centres and airport check-in systems.
Apparently things were better if you had taken the trouble to print out your boarding pass at home rather than tried to pick one up at the airport check-in desk, but that wouldn’t guarantee that your flight would leave on time…
Some aggrieved customers, left queuing for hours outside airports in blazing sunshine, documented what was happening on social media:
“Southwest air lining thousands up outside - no water, no food, no sunscreen - pure hell.”
By this morning, Southwest Airlines was saying that it had fixed the problem, but it’s clear that the disruption will continue to be felt by some travellers:
“We have some additional work to do to get bags delivered and some delayed or displaced Customers into open seats today. We have teams working as quickly as possible to accomplish that.”
What can we learn from this?
As travellers, leave technology out of the equation as much as possible. Turn up at the airport in good time, and even if you have a boarding pass on your smartphone try to ensure that you have a printed copy as well, just in case that makes life easier for the staff trying to get you on your plane.
And don’t take your frustration out on the poor people working behind the check-in desk. Chances are that they’re having a nightmare of a day as well, and they’re not the ones who broke the computer system.
Nobody at Southwest Airlines is suggesting that the technical problems were due to an attack by malicious hackers. Instead one has to assume that a common-or-garden standard cock-up occurred instead, just as it probably was when United Airlines grounded thousands of flights worldwide earlier this year, and when the NYSE halted trading.
So, sorry to disappoint any of you who were hoping for a dramatic “Die Hard 4”-style explanation for the airline’s problems - sometimes the solution is much more down-to-earth.