Senators raise concerns in wake of Delta, Southwest outages

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Two U.S. senators sent a letter to Delta Air Lines and other carriers raising concerns about recent computer outages that caused mass cancellations, and asking for answers.

Atlanta-based Delta canceled more than 2,100 flights last week after a computer outage led to the shutdown of the airline’s operations, followed by the disruption of flights for days.

Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote in a letter to Delta CEO Ed Bastian: “We are concerned with recent reports indicating that airlines’ IT systems may be susceptible to faltering because of the way they are designed and have been maintained.”

“Not only may these IT systems be more prone to failure, but they may also be vulnerable to cyberattacks,” the letter reads. “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.” The letter mentioned Delta’s outage, Southwest’s outage last month and a United Airlines outage last year.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

The senators wrote that they believe airlines should offer to rebook passengers on another airline or other transportation without any additional charge, and should reimburse passengers for any necessary meals and lodging.

The letter from Markey and Blumenthal asked for a list of IT outages and effects, any safeguards put in place, details on the state of the airline’s IT system and policies on rebooking and compensation.

Delta said in a written statement that it received the letter and is “in the process of reviewing their requests.”

Delta offered $200 travel vouchers to passengers whose flights were canceled or delayed for more than three hours Aug. 8-10. The airline said Aug. 10 that passengers would be notified that day and would get their voucher in 7 to 10 business days. Those who are eligible but were not contacted can complete an online form for a voucher.

Separately, airline analyst Helane Becker of Cowen and Co. estimated this week that the effects of Delta’s outage, including cancellations, delays and customers booking with other airlines, will translate into a roughly $120 million hit to Delta’s third-quarter operating income. The financial impact of the vouchers could stretch out over a longer period, since they are valid for about a year, while the outage will also increase costs for overtime and rebookings, according to Becker.