Delta Equipment Defect Triggered Loss of Power — WSJ

By Susan Carey 
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Delta Air Lines Inc. said a malfunction in one part of the electrical system that powers computers at its Atlanta headquarters caused the grounding of 1,000 flights Monday and continued to roil travel plans a day later.

In the first detailed public explanation of the outage, Gil West, the chief operating officer, said in a statement Tuesday that a “power control module” at the airline’s technology center malfunctioned early Monday morning, “causing a surge to the transformer and a loss of power.”

Power was quickly restored, but some critical systems and equipment didn’t switch over to backups, causing “instability,” he said. For instance, Delta is seeing a slowdown in a system that airport agents use to process check-ins, conduct boarding and dispatch aircraft. He also said flight-crew scheduling was disrupted, contributing to delays in getting operations back to normal.

Delta initially blamed a power outage. But a spokesman for Georgia Power, the Southern Co.-owned electric utility that serves nearly the entire state, said it had no power outage. Technicians responded to Delta’s problems early Monday and concluded the issue was a failed “switchgear,” which is like a fuse box at home that routes the power in and distributes it throughout the house, he said.

The airline scrubbed another 530 flights on Tuesday, as it worked to be get back on track. Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, appearing in a second video in as many days, told customers to expect some delays and cancellations on Wednesday before the system returns to full function.

Delta has invested “hundreds of millions in technology infrastructure upgrades and systems,” including backup systems, he said in the video. But Delta’s network “essentially crashed” Monday and needed to be rebooted, he said. The technical problems likely will cost Delta millions of dollars in lost revenue and could dent its image as the most reliable major airline in the U.S.

The airline put up some stranded travelers in hotels on Monday night, though some couldn’t be helped and slept at airports.

The nation’s No. 2 airline by traffic extended its waiver offer to fliers planning to travel on Tuesday, allowing them to rebook without a change fee for travel to start no later than Friday. It isn’t unusual for a carrier to extend such a waiver once it sees that delays and cancellations are going to continue into the second day or beyond.

Delta continued offering $200 in travel vouchers through Tuesday to customers who were delayed more than three hours or whose flight was canceled. Mr. Bastian, called the vouchers “our token of thanks for your patience.”

The airline’s efforts were seen as insufficient by some. “Is $200 really adequate if you’re a business traveler going to Europe in first class?” asked Henry Harteveldt, an analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry advisory firm.

Eric Schiffer, chief executive of ReputationManagementConsultants.com, credited the airline for becoming more responsive to customer complaints as the situation progressed. “I think they have heard the outrage on the internet,” he said. “People were barking mad.”

Delta had no comment on its handling of the situation. It said it had no preliminary estimates of the cost of the technical glitch.

After Southwest Airlines Co.’s system-wide computer outage on July 20, the carrier canceled 2,300 flights over four days. Robert Jordan, chief commercial officer, said afterward that the costs ran into the “tens of millions” of dollars.

The outage prevented people from booking tickets on Southwest.com for hours. The 2,300 planes that didn’t fly represented “a couple hundred thousand people” and the revenue related to that “is gone forever,” Mr. Jordan said.

Southwest refunded tickets, gave passengers half-off coupons for future travel, refunded hotel expenses and extended a fare sale, he said.

Delta’s Customer Commitment Policy, posted on its website, says in instances of delays, cancellations and irregular operations, it will automatically rebook a passenger on the next available flight and make every effort to ensure that checked baggage goes on the same plane.

Mr. Bastian said Tuesday that Monday’s tech meltdown and the attendant disruptions represented a failure to passengers. “This isn’t who we are, ” he said, adding that the airline would make every effort to prevent such a situation from occurring again.

Write to Susan Carey at susan.carey[a]wsj.com

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