A software issue saw the websites of several major United States-based airlines temporarily down on Monday. The software, provided by Google, normally displays flight and price data. But the bug saw prospective passengers unable to search or book flights. Among the airlines impacted were Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and United Airlines.
“A data error impacted our flight shopping software, which prevented airline partners, as well as Google Flights, from showing fare information,” Google said in a media statement.
“We’ve implemented a fix, and the issue has now been mitigated. We’ll continue to monitor to ensure this is fully resolved.”
Google software responsible for the IT failure
The problem affected passengers on Monday afternoon (US eastern time). People noticed the initial problems around midday. However, Google had resolved the majority of technical issues later in the afternoon.
Not understanding why I can’t book a flight on your website @united 😑.
— Sam (@SamsRamblings) April 5, 2021
“The issue was caused by the failure of technology provided to Delta and multiple airlines by Google. We apologize for any inconvenience this caused,” said a Delta Air Lines spokesperson.
For its part, American Airlines wasn’t giving much away, responding on social media with generic “thanks for your patience, we are working hard to resolve the issue” type messages.
“I am trying to get my boarding passes to show up on mobile app and receiving an error that it cannot connect with the server on both mine and my husband’s phone,” said one person on a social media feed.
Hi Nikki, we are working to address an issue with https://t.co/ufFoKFTNNe and the mobile app that may prevent customers from searching and completing purchases. We expect to have a resolution soon. ^JB
— United Airlines (@united) April 5, 2021
Impacted airlines used a version of Google’s ITA Matrix
These three airlines use a version of ITA Matrix. ITA Matrix is Google software that helps manage flights and inventory. Many reasons will be familiar with the publicly available ITA Fare Matrix, an old school-looking platform that crunches routes and prices to come up with some very good deals.
With ITA temporarily down, the airlines that use a version of it to power their reservations systems could not take bookings or display flight information. It impacted not just online bookings but also bookings taken over the phone or in person. In response, passengers overwhelmed airline call centers on Monday afternoon. What exacerbated the problem was call center staff also found parts of their IT systems inoperable.
However, the Google software issue appeared to have little impact on actual flights. There were minimal delays and cancelations across the United States on Monday.
@Delta I am trying to book a flight on the app and I have also tried on a browser and getting error code oops sorry 100808 R . Can you tell me if your system is down?
— Mark Henderson (@MarkHen12854540) April 5, 2021
A small step back as the airline reap the benefits of a resurgence in demand
Monday’s outage ended up a small step back for the big three United States-based airlines. For most of the spring, they’ve been enjoying resurgent domestic demand and are busy beefing up schedules and bringing planes back into service.
There are now over 20,000 domestic flights a day across the United States. That’s still a way of comparable 2019 levels but a big step up on comparable 2020 flight numbers.
IT platforms, particularly at legacy airlines like the big three US carriers, can be an Achilles heel for airlines. They are critical to the smooth running of airlines, but these platforms have been added to and extended over the years, becoming complex and unwieldy in many cases.
Updating the platforms is a significant logistical exercise that’s often postponed in the face of more pressing and high-profile needs – for example, fleet updates and reducing capital expenditure. But as Monday’s problem highlighted, airlines need their IT systems to work seamlessly, particularly if they want to exploit the rebound in passenger demand.
Were you impacted by Monday’s IT outage? Post a comment and let us know