American Airlines resumes most flights

By David Koenig

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 17 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Tuesday, April 16, 2013, file photo, an American Airlines ticket agent talks assists passengers checking in at Hartsfield-Jackson airport, in Atlanta. AMR Corp. reports quarterly financial results before the market opens on Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

Associated Press

DALLAS — American Airlines played catch-up Wednesday, resuming most flights and even adding a handful that weren't on the schedule to help passengers stranded by a massive technology failure that grounded the carrier's entire U.S. fleet a day earlier.

But some cancellations persisted, and delays were still common. About a third of American flights were late as of mid-afternoon.

American's CEO blamed Tuesday's breakdown on a software problem that knocked out computer systems needed for booking flights, tracking bags, loading and fueling planes and more.

"As you'd imagine, we do have redundancies in our system," Tom Horton, chief executive of parent company AMR Corp., said in an apology to passengers posted on YouTube. "But unfortunately in this case, we had a software issue that impacted both our primary and backup systems."

American and smaller-jet subsidiary American Eagle still canceled more than 300 flights by mid-afternoon, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.com. American said some flights were affected by bad weather in Chicago.

But American's performance was a huge improvement over Tuesday, when the computer failure brought all departures to a halt. Flights already in the air were allowed to continue to their destinations, but planes on the ground could not take off.

American and American Eagle canceled nearly 1,000 flights and delayed another 1,100. Two-thirds of their scheduled flights were late or never got into the air.

On Wednesday, American added seven unscheduled flights to accommodate passengers stranded the day before in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

As marooned passengers resume their travels, questions lingered about the technology and whether American's systems will be adequate to avoid similar collapses after the company merges with US Airways to form the world's biggest airline.

AMR and US Airways hope to complete their merger by September and create a giant that would surpass current industry leader United in passenger miles. Airline mergers are always difficult, and one of the trickiest parts is combining technology systems.

When the systems of US Airways and America West Airlines were combined in 2007, chaos ensued. Hundreds of check-in kiosks didn't work, ticket agents were swamped, and flights delays lingered for days.

United's reservations system failed on several days last year after it converted to the one run by merger partner Continental Airlines. The CEO was forced to apologize.

Even if flights operate on time, there can be other hitches when systems are merged. At United, upgrades for elite members of the frequent-flier program weren't handled properly, and flights booked with miles weren't always ticketed correctly. Those mistakes were especially upsetting to the airline's most loyal customers. It's one thing for one flight to be late. For many veteran fliers, it's worse to constantly worry about upgrades.

Airline technology is notoriously complicated because so many pieces of the system rely on each other for information, said Emre Serpen, a consultant at InterVistas who works with airlines on technology issues.

Passenger information goes into the system and tells gate workers whether all the passengers have arrived. The same information is used to calculate the weight of the fully loaded plane. Flight dispatchers, who may be in a command center across the country, use the figures to order the right amount of fuel — too much fuel adds weight and reduces mileage.

Besides performing many functions, airline computer systems might be assembled or serviced by different vendors. For American, the complexity will be magnified when it combines reservations, scheduling, frequent-flier and other programs with those at US Airways.

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