Dispatch from inside American Airlines’ travel hell

This is what a nightmare looks like. Nobody can rebook until the system is back up.
This is what a nightmare looks like. Nobody can rebook until the system is back up.
Image: Christopher Mims
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“All I know is this is the first time I’ve been on American soil in 5 years, and someone is going to die,” says the soldier behind me. He was waiting on a flight that was to connect him, ultimately, to Fort Benning, Georgia. “I haven’t even seen my family in two years,” he adds.

The source of his frustration: A global outage of American Airlines’ reservation system.

I’m in the middle of it, too.

It started when the pilot on my flight, the 2 p.m. from Baltimore to Dallas on American Airlines, couldn’t log in to download a flight plan. Before we boarded the plane at Baltimore-Washington International airport, I saw him fiddling with his iPad and mumbling to himself near the counter. I mentally crossed my fingers that it was a temporary outage.

No such luck.

Soon enough, ground crew in dayglow-yellow vests were telling us all American Flights were grounded. In the entire world.

This, apparently, is what happens when the corporate cloud for a major airline goes down. No ability to verify passenger identity, no flight plans, not even weather reports for pilots.

We can’t even rebook our canceled flights until after the system is back up, sometime around 5 p.m., though there’s no guarantee it will be back up, even then.

So we wait. The planes are fueled. The crews are ready. But somewhere, in a data center, errant servers are down, exposing the vulnerability of our 21st century IT dependency.

Without the cloud, everything grinds to a halt.