Airlines

FAA Outage Causes Flight Delays & Disruption

Late Tuesday evening, an essential piece of the aviation transportation network operated by the Federal Aviation Administration failed.

And because of that the FAA temporarily grounded all flights nationwide on Wednesday morning.

The ground stop was lifted by 8:50 am east coast time. But the fallout included more than 1,300 canceled flights and close to 10,500 delayed flights over the course of the day, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.

And, as we know, when that happens, it can take a few days for flight schedules to fully get back in order.

What went wrong?

The FAA’s Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which provides critical safety and operational information to pilots stopped working. And without that information, it wasn’t safe for any planes to take from any airport.

After the reboot, flights resumed. And by Wednesday evening, the FAA issued a statement with some explanation of what went wrong and a reassurance that the agency wasn’t the victim of a cyber-attack. The agency also promises to ‘further pinpoint’ what went wrong, and “prevent this kind of disruption from happening again.”

“The FAA is continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage. Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyber attack. The FAA is working diligently to further pinpoint the causes of this issue and take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again.”

Now What?

Passengers whose flights were canceled are owed refunds by the airlines, even though this was an FAA-induced incident. Most airlines are waiving change fees and allowing ticketed passengers to change plans and trying to rebook passengers on other flights. If your travel plans were disrupted, be sure to see if the credit card you used to book the flight has some sort of travel delay insurance. Here are links to the Travel Alert page for many airlines.

Alaska Airlines

American Airlines

Delta Air Lines

Frontier Airlines

JetBlue

Delta Air Lines

Southwest Airlines

United Airlines

Southwest Airlines Saga Continues

After a week of widespread cancellations and disarray in operations, many Southwest Airlines passengers are still stuck at airports around the country waiting for standby seats. Or in hotels waiting for confirmation of a flight home.

If you’re following social media and watching TV, you’ve also likely seen stories of people renting cars – sometimes with strangers – to get where they need to go.

The airline says it’s doing its best to put things right. And late Wednesday, Southwest Airlines Chief Commercial Officer, Ryan Green, took to social media to offer (more) apologies; a pledge to do “everything we can” to make things up to customers, and something more useful: fresh details about some added tools and resources that might help travelers get refunds, flight reservations, and their baggage.

Airports also are beginning to get answers and action from Southwest Airlines. Take a look at this Twitter thread from Chicago’s Midway Airport, where Southwest Airlines is the largest carrier. In addition to trying to accommodate thousands of stranded passengers, the airport has had to store and secure an incredible amount of baggage.

In the meantime, most other airlines are capping fares on many routes to accommodate those who are rebooking themselves on non-Southwest Airlines flights. But since this is still the busy holiday season, those seats are hard to come by too.

For those of you who may be stuck at an airport or know someone whose holiday plans were ruined by weather and airline meltdowns we know you’ll understand the joy this man experienced – and expressed – once he was reunited with this bag at Midway Airport.

Southwest Airlines Nightmare Continues

Early Wednesday morning, Flightaware.com was showing almost 2500 Southwest Airlines flights canceled. That leaves thousands of passengers still stuck at airports around the country.

All other domestic airlines now have their schedules back on track since the last weekend’s bad weather. But not Southwest. The airline continues to suffer from staffing problems, software and technology failures, and other challenges.

Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan offered apologies. ( See below). And the airline is offering to cover the costs of hotels, car rentals, and tickets on other airlines in an effort to help out inconvenienced passengers.

If your plans have been ruined, here’s a link to begin filing for that reimbursement. Also be sure to check your credit card for any travel delay benefits it may offer.

The Department of Transportation has vowed to investigate.

But that isn’t really doing much right now to fix the problems and headaches this meltdown has caused. Nor will it make up for ruined holidays and family gatherings, and missed meetings, weddings, funerals, and other important events people were trying to get to.

Not only are Southwest Airlines passengers still stuck at airports all over the country, baggage is pilling up in bag claims. And many people won’t get flights home until after January 1.

Santa arrived. Many other flyers didn’t.

No doubt about it.

For everyone except Santa and his reindeer, flying this holiday has been a mess.

There’s so much snow in upstate New York that Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) is staying closed until at least 11 a.m. on Wednesday, December 28.

And the airport’s award-winning snow removal team is so overwhelmed with snow that is has called on other airports to help them deal with this blizzard.

“Our crews are working around the clock and @PITairport will be sending additional snow plowing equipment to assist our team,” the airport shared in a Tweet.

Southwest Airlines Meltown

Thousands of flights have been canceled and all airlines are having a tough time getting passengers and their suitcases from here to there.

But Southwest Airlines operations seem to have broken down – or frozen up – completely.

At 1 am Tuesday morning, FlightAware.com was showing more than 2,600 cancellations within, into, or out of the United States, with most of those being on Southwest Airlines alone.

The airline cancelled more than 2900 flights on Monday and has already canceled 2460 flights for Tuesday.

The next few days may get even worse.

In a media release late Monday, Southwest said, “With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable.”

The airline said “our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.” But it added: “As we continue the work to recover our operation, we have made the decision to continue operating a reduced schedule by flying roughly one third of our schedule for the next several days.”

But it may be more serious than that.

Tweets like this were shared Tuesday night from cities all over the country confirming that Southwest customers are being told no flights will be rebooked until after December 31.

As in “next year.”

That means that a lot of people whose flights have already been canceled are going to have to wait even longer to get on a plane.

The Department of Transportation has taken notice, calling Southwest’s rate of cancellations and delays and report of poor customer service “unacceptable” and saying it “will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.”

2023 will be profitable for airlines, despite airports “gouging” airlines

Airline trade group IATA – the International Air Transport Association – is hosting a gathering of journalists in Geneva, Switzerland this week and laying out a wide variety of reports, predictions, and challenges.

IATA reports that in 2023, as air travel rebounds from COVID-19 restrictions, the global airline industry expects to post a small net profit of $4.7 billion, with more than 4 billion passengers taking to the skies. That’s a 0.6% net profit margin and the industry’s first profit since 2019.

In 2021 and 2022 airlines lost billions of dollars due to the pandemic.

The 2023 return to profit is a “great achievement considering the scale of the financial and economic damage caused by government-imposed pandemic restrictions,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh. But he warned that many airlines will continue to struggle next year and into the future.

And he lashed out at airports – and their charges to airlines – as adding to the struggle.

“It’s very important that everybody understands just how fragile the recovery is,” said Walsh. “But the margins we are operating with are very small and we cannot tolerate a situation where airports in particular attempt to gouge airlines and their passengers by significant increases in airport charges. Every single cent matters.”

The Airport Industry Responds

As you might imagine, Walsh’s comments about airports don’t sit well with the airport community.

And Luis Felipe de Oliveira, the World Director General of airport trade group Airports Council International (ACI) swiftly responded to Walsh’s comments about airports and airport charges.

“Attacking industry partners does not reflect the collaborative spirit the industry needs for the common goal of providing safe, reliable, and efficient air transport,” said de Oliveira.

“Like airlines and other areas of this ecosystem, airports are businesses too and affected by cost rises in the industry outside of their control. It is a reality we’re all facing—high costs of energy, inflation, and staff shortages.”

de Oliveira noted that airports had a 49% drop in aeronautical revenues during 2020-2021. Costs have gone up, he said, while revenues are not keeping pace.

“It is important to remember that airports are infrastructure-intensive businesses—meaning they have unavoidable high fixed costs. What’s more, significant investment will be needed going forward to meet demand and transition to sustainable energy sources,” said Oliveira. “Airlines have been able to increase their tariffs during the last year, which is different from the airports that need to follow regulatory frameworks.”

In the end, “aviation is one ecosystem,” said Oliveira. “We must focus on the benefits to passengers and communities. And for this, all parts of the ecosystem need to be healthy.”