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Technology Delta's massive computer outage is part of a much bigger problem

Delta’s massive computer outage is part of a much bigger problem

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A systemwide computer outage at Delta Air Lines is leaving passengers stranded and causing mass cancellations for customers who booked flights scheduled for Monday morning.

The problem highlights how our increasingly digital world means that computer outages, no matter the cause, can wreak havoc on even the largest companies — and the customers they serve.

Here’s what you need to know:

What happened?

The problem was caused by an early morning power outage in Atlanta, where the company is based, according a statement from Delta.

“A power outage in Atlanta, which began at approximately 2:30 a.m. ET, has impacted Delta computer systems and operations worldwide, resulting in flight delays,” the company said. “Large-scale cancellations are expected today.”

What about flights in the air now?

They should be unaffected. “All flights enroute are operating normally,” according to the company’s statement. However, things could get a little complicated for passengers heading for a connecting flight on Delta.

What should I do if I’m supposed to fly on Delta today?

In a statement posted at 5:05 a.m., the company urged travelers “to check the status of their flights this morning while the issue is being addressed.” However in a later update, the company said all of its flight status systems — including those on monitors at airports — were incorrectly showing that flights were on time.

Delta has now issued a waiver saying that all passengers on flights that are canceled or significantly delayed can get refunds. Even if passengers’ flights today haven’t been canceled, the company said travelers will be able to make a “one-time change” to their tickets without paying a fee as long as the ticket is reissued on or before Aug. 12, 2016.

“However, a difference in fare may apply,” according to Delta.

How often does this sort of thing happen?

While the Delta outage on Monday is massive, it’s not unprecedented. Other airlines have suffered computer errors or glitches that have caused chaos for customers. Just last month, Southwest suffered intermittent computer problems over several days that canceled hundreds of flights and caused delays. Last year, United Airlines had to delay its planes for almost two hours — affecting nearly 5,000 flights — due to a computer glitch.

Computers and automated systems have increased the efficiency and productivity of businesses in ways that were unimaginable a century, or even decades ago. But whether due to cyberattacks or just plain computer errors, the inter-connectivity built into almost all aspects of our lives means that one problem can quickly cascade into a catastrophe — so companies need to have a plan in place for when something goes wrong.

In Delta’s case, the fall back seems to be returning to pen and paper: Some airport agents started writing out boarding passes by hand, according to NBC News.

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