Business

After 3,000 flights were canceled, American aims to prevent similar trouble

American Airlines said this week that it is now reviewing its regional carrier's technology systems after issues with a crew scheduling program caused thousands of flights to be canceled for days last week.

The computer problem was tied to the crew scheduling and tracking system at PSA Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary that operates flights under the American Eagle brand. Those flights carry passengers to and from regional airports to major hubs like Charlotte.

"This was a significant IT systems issue that caused both PSA’s main systems and backup systems to slow down beyond a usable state," spokeswoman Katie Cody said. "We are conducting a comprehensive review of PSA’s systems with the goal of preventing anything like this from ever happening again."

Cody said she did not have anything else to add about the company's review or how long it would last.

During the outage, American Airlines canceled about 3,000 flights, with 2,500 of those to and from the Charlotte airport. Those cancellations stranded passengers in Charlotte and elsewhere, while drawing widespread ire from travelers, including on social media. One woman made headlines after she was so frustrated she broke a window.

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Technology issues began to gain attention on June 14 and the problems lasted until June 22, when American said that PSA flights were back up and running completely.

During that time, American Airlines said it had dispatched a group of its technical workers to PSA's headquarters near Dayton, Ohio, to help resolve the problems.

“American has one of the strongest IT teams in the airline business," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst.

American's assistance to PSA may continue, he added. “And, frankly, that should make the traveling public feel good.”

But a challenge for American and PSA is that they have to test their technology in an operating environment and not interfere with the airlines' operation or safety, he said.

Harteveldt compared the tests to performing intricate surgery. "One wrong move and you kill the person," he said. "One wrong move on PSA’s part and they kill the IT system and bring the airline down again.”

Another travel analyst had criticized American Airlines for not offering travel waivers, which would have allowed customers to choose other flights. American Airlines had said those waivers typically are issued for entire airports, not just for some flights.

American rebooked and refunded passengers and also booked hundreds of hotel rooms for those stranded in Charlotte.

But analyst Joe Brancatelli said the airline still should have offered the waivers, adding that airlines think people are waiting for an opportunity to change their flights. “People don’t buy tickets in hopes they can change them."

The airlines' response is what is most important, he said, because outages will happen.

“Computers go down,” Brancatelli said. “It’s inevitable. Systems get screwed up.”

Cassie Cope: 704-358-5926, @cassielcope
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