Unfriendly Skies: Computer Glitch Undoes US Airlines Weeks After Travel Chaos

Thousands of flights are delayed or canceled weeks after Southwest fiasco before schedules resume hours later

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX-8 on an airport tarmac

Ashlee Duncan/Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

A flight notification system outage at the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all planes nationwide for several hours Wednesday morning, just weeks after a major winter storm caused massive disruptions to air travel and airline business.

Key Takeaways

  • An FAA system glitch grounded planes nationwide for several hours on Wednesday morning.
  • Flights began to resume around 9 a.m.
  • The issue comes three weeks after a winter storm caused carriers to cancel thousands of flights.
  • Southwest Airlines, which also experienced issues with its scheduling system during the storm, said late-December cancellations and related costs could total up to $825 million.

Almost 7,000 flights were delayed and about 1,000 canceled, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. The White House said the problems probably weren't due to a cyberattack. The glitch affected planes nationwide and multiple carriers, before flights began to resume around 9 a.m. Eastern.

It was the second time in the past month that the U.S. air travel system has been thrown into chaos, with carriers still reeling from recent weather-related issues. Three weeks ago, airline companies canceled thousands of flights due to a winter storm covering wide swaths of the country.

Though late-December flight issues occurred across many carriers, investors have focused on Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) over its nearly 17,000 cancellations in the last 10 days of the year. Besides the storm, the company also experienced a meltdown of its scheduling system. Together, these issues could cost Southwest up to $825 million and plunge it into a net loss for the fourth quarter. The carrier also is facing a lawsuit alleging that it failed to provide refunds to stranded passengers.

Southwest shares plunged about 13% from Dec. 21 through Jan. 3 but have since largely recovered. The stock was down about 2% in early morning trading Wednesday. Rivals Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) and American Airlines Inc. (AAL) each fell in early hours but were up under 1% as of 11:07 a.m. New York time.

Article Sources
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  1. New York Times. "Live Updates: Flights to Resume Across U.S. After F.A.A. System Failure."

  2. https://flightaware.com/live/cancelled/

  3. CNBC. "Airlines cancel more than 12,000 flights during severe winter storms and scramble to rebook holiday travelers."

  4. Barron's. "Southwest Airlines Unveils Leadership Promotions Just Weeks After Flight Chaos."

  5. Reuters. "Southwest Airlines is sued for not providing refunds after meltdown."

  6. Yahoo! Finance. "Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV)."

  7. Yahoo! Finance. "American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL)."

  8. Yahoo! Finance. "Delta Air Lines Inc., (DAL)."

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