What IT Departments Can Learn from Recent Southwest Airlines Outage

What IT departments can learn from Southwest Airlines' Outage

Southwest Airlines has become the latest in a recent string of airlines to experience delays and outages due to problems with their technical systems. How can companies like Southwest reduce or eliminate downtime and outages altogether?

Upwards of 800 out of 3,355 Southwest Airlines flights faced moderate to heavy delays due to a computer glitch on Sunday, Oct. 11, according to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

Southwest did not specify what caused the bug, though airline spokesman Brad Hawkins made clear that there was “absolutely no indication” that it was the result of a third-party hack.

Barring the possibility of a security breach, it stands to reason that poor IT strategies may be to blame for the downtime Southwest experienced.

Up in the Air? Think Again

USA Today reported that the technical difficulties began cropping up around 8:10 AM CST, creating long lines, blocking hundreds of passengers from check-in, and backing up airport traffic across the nation.

Passengers had been asked to pre-print their boarding passes at home and to arrive at least two hours before their scheduled departures as the airline began working on the problem. Those lucky enough to have printed their boarding passes beforehand were fine, while the majority of those with e-tickets on their smartphones faced longer delays. 

Although the delay itself only lasted approximately two hours, the process of wading through a sea of passengers and reverting to paper tickets meant that a number of people were either severely rushed or missed their flights altogether. Impatient customers soon took to social media to voice their complaints, unleashing a storm of Instagram updates and tweets complete with real-time photos of the lines they were stuck in.

Southwest Airline apologizes for IT outage

Southwest Airline IT outage causes long lines

Southwest Airlines released a statement at 8:00 the next morning, assuring customers that they were back on track: “Today we are expecting the technical systems that power our Customer Service to perform normally.

Teams worked throughout the night in advance of our first departures to ensure the smoothest operation of our originating and later flights.” Southwest assured further customers that they would “continue to work individually with [their] affected customers to make this right.”

A Trend in Airline Downtime

This is far from the first time that major nationwide airlines have come under fire in 2015. United Airlines has already experienced several major outages in the last year, while American Airlines similarly suffered major technical delays merely three weeks ago. Farecompare.com representative Rick Seaney points out that when “four airlines [. . .] control 80% of all traffic in the United States,” tech systems are bound to be negatively affected.

In this vein, capacity planning and IT strategies are a must for any major company making the transition from traditional paper-and-phone-call commerce to electronic business. More often than not, outdated computer systems overloaded with requests and data input beyond their current abilities are the culprits behind the types of congestion seen in airports this weekend.

As technology problem-solving and IT management company HelpSystems observes in its ITSO guide, the current, siloed approach many businesses take to capacity management simply cannot prevent the occurrence of major crashes and slowdowns. The key is to streamline “disparate” bits of information together in order to ensure smoother software operation and, by extension, overall client satisfaction.

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