It’s one thing after the other.
It happened again! On September 5, United Airlines temporarily grounded all its aircrafts in the U.S. due to a technological issue. “Flights that are already airborne are continuing to their destination as planned,” the airline’s account posted on X (formerly Twitter). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed this as well.
An hour later, the birds were in the air, but more than 200 flights were delayed nationwide. United later said in a statement that a software update caused a “widespread slowdown in United’s technology systems,” and reassured that no departed flight was affected.
It’s not the first time that a break in flight operations was caused by technological issues. In fact, it has been so frequent lately that it has become another hassle for already frustrated airline passengers. Along with staff shortages, bad weather conditions, and airport strikes, technological issues have been sending everyone on a tailspin. Since this issue just keeps cropping up, it deserves closer inspection.
A String of Snags
Just a week before the United incident, the U.K. had a meltdown, too. Thousands of flights coming into the country and flying out were impacted when the air traffic control services encountered a technical issue. More than 2,000 flights were cancelled due to system failure and the disruption lasted for days. It had far-reaching effects in Europe, and during the busy summertime, it meant stranded passengers all over.
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The system had to be rebooted, so the FAA put a ground stop on flights—more than 10,000 flights were delayed; 1,000 were cancelled; and the disruption continued for days.
The U.S. had its own system failure earlier this year when the FAA’s NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) system failed due to a corrupt file. The system had to be rebooted, so the FAA put a ground stop on flights—more than 10,000 flights were delayed; 1,000 were cancelled; and the disruption continued for days.
This again brought attention to the out-of-date technology that the U.S. depends on for its aviation needs. Scott Keyes, the founder of Going, told Fodor’s in January, “Many airline industry technologies are built on top of 1970s systems that are difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to bring into the 21st century, much less 2023. Most of the time, it all operates smoothly, but on occasion, these background IT systems can buckle under the weight, as we saw with Southwest over the holidays.”
Southwest has been under scrutiny after multiple tech lapses since last year. It is haunted by technological issues. So severe was the problem last year during the holiday season that more than 16,000 flights were cancelled between December 20 and 29, and 2 million passengers were left without a way back home. The airline not only apologized to its passengers who suffered greatly during the holiday season, but also had to explain the meltdown to members of Congress. Its pilots’ union infamously told Congress that the operations were “held together by duct tape.”
Southwest released a plan this March and promised to invest $1.3 billion in technical upgrades, along with improving staffing and increasing availability of winter equipment, CNN reported. However a few weeks later, another technical issue stopped its planes and another 1,820 flights were delayed.
It’s a cacophony of alarm bells with so many back-to-back incidents. What’s worse, the U.S. is also experiencing a worrying number of near-miss flight collisions. With airlines shrinking seats and charging for every amenity, it’s a travesty that the experience is now being even more bungled by outdated technology.