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Over the past month, there have been large system outages at two of the largest airlines in the nation. Now, a couple of US Senators are demanding answers.

Yesterday, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey sent letters to the largest 13 US-based airlines asking what they’re doing to fix the problems causing these outages. A copy of the letter sent to Delta has been publicly posted (caution: PDF link).

In addition to requesting information about the cause of past outages and back-up systems in place, the senators are also requesting answers to how airlines respond to such outages. The letter asks for information about whether airlines rebook passengers on other airlines and the “compensation and recourse” the airline provides stranded travelers.

Airlines haven’t been rebooking passengers on other airlines when they have issues. Senators want to know why. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The letter requests that the airlines address and respond to all of these questions by September 16. However, there seems to be no legal requirement for any of the 13 airlines to respond to these requests, so it’ll be interesting to see if they choose to discard these requests or comply. The decision might vary from carrier to carrier, as well. Responding might reveal just how fragile an airline’s systems are and how traveler-unfriendly its policies are. But, ignoring the senators’ request may lead to congressional hearings on the topic — further harming the carrier’s reputation.

Consolidation Creates Larger Impact

The recent mergers have exasperated the problem.
The recent mergers have exasperated the problem.

Recent mergers between Delta/Northwest, Southwest/AirTran, American/US Air and United/Continental have created mass concentration in the airline industry. These four post-merger carriers serve a large majority of the nation’s air travel needs. The senators point out in their letter:

Now that four air carriers control approximately 85 percent of domestic capacity, all it takes is one airline to experience an outage and thousands of passengers could be stranded, resulting in missed business meetings, graduations, weddings, funerals and other prepaid events.

All four of these referenced air carriers have now seen outages over the 13 months:

Bottom Line

The airlines have been recording record profits over the past few years, but lack of competition or oversight has created complacency. We are hopeful that this letter from the senators serves as a wake-up call for airlines to address the underlying IT issues that have led to these recent system outages.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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