News and notes from Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport

Federal watchdog to look into airline outages

The U.S. Government Accountability Office will launch an examination of airline IT outages and their impact on the traveling public, in the wake of massive technology glitches at Delta Air Lines and other carriers that have affected millions of travelers.

Another technology outage struck the airline industry on Thursday morning, when Southwest Airlines and other carriers around the world were hit by disruptions due to outages experienced by reservations system provider Amadeus.

That comes after a massive outage at Southwest that led to thousands of flight cancellations in July 2016.

Delta also had an outage involving a small fire in August 2016 that caused it to cancel about 2,300 flights and was so crippling that it prompted the company to build a new data center in Alpharetta. Delta had another outage in January 2017.

Delta is the largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson, while Southwest is in the No. 2 position at the Atlanta airport.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had requested the study by the GAO.

The IT system outages "have often caused serious inconvenience for impacted passengers, who frequently experience substantial delays in reaching their destinations as well as significant out-of-pocket costs due to the delays," Nelson wrote in a letter to the GAO in August. "The issue of airline IT system crashes is serious and appears to be getting worse."

A letter from the GAO responding to Nelson last week said the office expects to be able to start the review in about four months.

Nelson asked for a study looking at the number of flights delayed or canceled, the number of passengers affected, accommodations offered, amount of time to recover and the cause of each outage. He also asked for a review of any U.S. Department of Transportation regulations that apply, and any suggestions for regulations or legislation to help prevent or recover from outages in the future.

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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.