What Delta's Huge Power Outage Could Mean for Air Travel

With over six hours of delay, the airline may be in jeopardy. 

Getty Images / Drew Angerer

On Monday, Delta airlines cancelled hundreds of flights in response to a massive power outage at its Atlanta headquarters. Passengers found themselves stranded for totals of three to six hours at least, as the company hurried to keep up with customer demand after over 420 flights were either temporarily taken off the board or cancelled completely.

The outage comes as less than a surprise when similar occurrences have hit all-time highs during recent travel seasons, most notably this past January, when a blizzard along the Northeast grounded over 10,000 flights right in the middle of a heavy holiday season. But the problem goes beyond poor reactions to natural storms — it’s about how tightly connected our services are to the internet and electricity, as well as how future outages like Delta’s might affect how international travel progresses.

There’s no news yet about the financial impact of this week’s flights, but Delta has offered a $200 travel voucher to passengers who had to wait over three hours, or had flights cancelled on them due to the outage. The greatest worry that stand out among Monday’s events is the fact that the backup generators failed to switch on because their switch was broken — an accident that left a vulnerability large enough to cost the company a possible grave amount of money.

Airline industry analyst Robert W. Mann, Jr. tweeted his concerns for the future of air travel that’s increasingly connected to an unreliable power grid.

In other words, unless airlines can develop safeguards and reliable backup systems, these outages will continue happening.

It’s worth noting that it wasn’t airport systems that went down, but the power at Delta’s Atlanta HQ. Basically, the giant brain controlling all of Delta’s flight data completely shut down, and the company didn’t have adequate backup power to keep their command center online. As more and more of air travel is governed by computers at remote locations, services become subject to the whims of the power grids (like Atlanta’s) that they are connected to. Another Twitter user told Mann that the Atlanta grid was notoriously spotty, meaning Delta should have had better safeguards in place.

For its part, Delta has been extremely responsive, releasing updates on the outage from executives as the day went on.

Delta says that it is still conducting a deeper investigation, but that its primary focus is getting customers home and making things right with passengers who were stranded. But if the power networks that airports run on don’t change,

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