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Delta Operations Resume After Power Outage Left Travelers Stranded


Thousands of Delta passengers got to the airport today to find their flights either delayed or canceled. This happened to its customers all over the world. A power outage caused a computer network to go down, and that forced the airline to put a ground stop on all of its scheduled flights for several hours.

Flight operations have resumed, but hundreds of flights are still delayed, and many more are being canceled. NPR's David Schaper reports the problems may continue for a couple of days.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: It still is not exactly clear what went wrong. Delta says it experienced a power outage at a facility in Atlanta where Delta is based at about 2:30 this morning which in turn caused a computer system failure affecting flight planning and dispatch operations worldwide for several hours. Flights already in the air were not affected.

The local electric company, Georgia Power, blames the outage on a piece of Delta's equipment that failed, but a Delta spokesman would not confirm that, saying that the airline is still investigating what caused the outage. Regardless, it made for a miserable day to be scheduled on an early Monday morning Delta flight.

GARY NATALE: My flight is 7:15 in the morning generally.

SCHAPER: Gary Natale takes the same flight every week from Atlanta to Washington, D.C.

NATALE: So I guess it was about a four-and-a-half-hour delay - is what it ultimately came to.

SCHAPER: Fortunately for Natale, a co-worker texted him before he left his house, so he stayed and worked from home for a few hours before heading to the airport to stand in line.

NATALE: Looks like there's still system problems because we can't get boarding passes on our mobile apps, and it's not pulling up on the kiosks either. So we're forced to stand in line here.

SCHAPER: Many travelers got erroneous information in texts, online and on airport departure screens saying that their flights were on time when in reality, they'd be stranded at the airport for hours. Some, such as Terry Lively, just took it all in stride.

TERRY LIVELY: It's a business trip, so I've already alerted my customer and said, well, just be aware. And they go, I know; just see what you can do, and if you can't get here, we'll reschedule. So...

SCHAPER: But others had a lot more at stake.

VICTOR THEODORE VIOLETTE: It's kind of sad right now because I was really hoping to see my Grandpa Papier earlier today.

SCHAPER: So 11-year-old Victor Theodore Violette had to wait at the airport for a few more hours before visiting grandpa.

DANIEL BAKER: It's really a disaster.

SCHAPER: Daniel Baker is CEO of the flight tracking company flightaware.com

BAKER: To have this sort of disruption where zero flights were taking off for hours - it's one of the largest airlines in the world - it's absolutely massive. So tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of folks are impacted or will be impacted.

SCHAPER: The computer outage at Delta as well as other recent technology meltdowns at Southwest a couple of weeks ago, at United earlier this summer and at American Airlines last year all raise questions about whether the airlines have adequate backup systems.

BAKER: I think there's no question that with United's and Southwest's and now Delta's outages and experiences, we're going to see a huge investment on behalf of the airlines towards more reliable infrastructure.

SCHAPER: But Baker says trying to merge old legacy airline computer systems with new technologies and mobile apps and make them both accessible to customers yet secure from hackers could take years. Meanwhile, it may take several days for Delta to catch up from this morning's outage and get flight operations back to normal. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper
David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.