Hundreds of American flights canceled or delayed by computer failure

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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DFW AIRPORT -- John Oldham, a Nashville-area businessman, dialed up flight information on his smartphone and chuckled.

"See?" he said. "It says my flight is on time and on schedule."

On the contrary, Oldham was one of thousands of travelers stranded Tuesday by a computer outage that forced American Airlines to cancel or delay hundreds of flights because the carrier couldn't check in passengers.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground-stop of all American Airlines and American Eagle flights across the nation at the request of the carrier.

There were only a few flight cancellations and delays on Wednesday as the airline worked to get its operations back to normal. However, weather in Chicago and aircraft repositioning prompted the airline to cancel about 100 flights. American added five additional flights on Wednesday to help affected customers reach their destinations.

"Our operations returned to normal this morning," said American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. "Again, we apologize to our customers for the inconvenience yesterday and thank our team for their continued efforts."

Most of the cancellations and delays on Tuesday occurred at DFW and Chicago O'Hare airports, two of American's major hubs. The airline cancelled 978 flights on Tuesday because of the computer outage.

About 1,500 passengers opted to stay overnight at DFW Airport in the terminals, said airport spokesman David Magana. Flights continued to depart the airport until about 3 a.m. as American worked to get its operations back on track.

Problems with the airline's reservations, ticket booking and check-in computer systems, known as Sabre, started in the late morning.

Nancy St. Pierre, a spokeswoman with Sabre Holdings in Southlake, said there were "no issues" with its system, which is used by airlines and travel agents. It was a connectivity problem, which Sabre does not manage for American, she said.

Passengers at DFW's Terminal C grumbled that they weren't informed about the delays nor were they given a clue about what was happening.

Oldham, misled by the outdated flight information on his phone, got in line to check in at about 3 p.m., but didn't know there was a problem until he overhead other people complaining.

American employees were directing customers from counter to counter without offering explanations, he said. Each time, he had to go to the back of a long line.

"This is my fourth time to be in line," Oldham said.

At 3:30 p.m., American said its systems were back online but that it expected flight delays and cancellations to continue throughout the day.

"We apologize to our customers and our people for this inconvenience," the airline said in a statement. It noted there was no evidence to link the technical outage with the explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday that killed three people and injured scores.

The carrier offered to change customer reservations at no charge if their travel plans were flexible. If not, American said, it would provide full refunds.

According to posts on Facebook and Twitter, some passengers who boarded before the computer shutdown were stuck on planes for almost two hours.

In the terminal, Trevor Davies and two co-workers stood in line, trying to figure out how they'd get back to Colorado Springs.

"I'm not going to get angry," Davies said with a jovial smile. "Things happen. People just need to understand the world is not perfect."

If Davies was trying to buck up his colleagues, it didn't work. They were less than chipper and declined to comment.

Darid Erwin was with 29 fellow members of the Arlington High School chamber choir taking a flight to New York City where they were scheduled to perform at Carnegie Hall.

Late Tuesday afternoon, they were unsure how'd they get there, but Erwin said he came to the airport with no expectations for an easy trip.

"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I've never flown before. I've never been out of Texas. We'll get there eventually."

Bill McKenna of Pompano Beach, Fla., was worried about missing work Wednesday morning. He came to North Texas last week for the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

But, like Erwin, he tried to keep things in perspective.

"Compared to what happened in Boston, this is nothing," he said.

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631

Twitter: @Sky_Talk

Bill Miller, 817-390-7684

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