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Dispatch from inside American Airlines’ travel hell

Christopher Mims
This is what a nightmare looks like. Nobody can rebook until the system is back up.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

“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.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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