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Congress Wants To Know Why Airlines’ IT Systems Are Failing

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Ted Goodman Reporter

Two U.S. senators sent letters Tuesday to 13 major airlines asking them to describe the state of their information technology (IT) and explain the safeguards they have in place to protect them from failure.

The letters follow two recent technical glitches experience by Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines this summer. Southwest suffered a massive technical glitch in mid-July which knocked their website offline. The glitch forced them to cancel or delay of thousands of flights, and cost the company over $10 million. Delta suffered from a power outage at its Atlanta headquarters earlier this month, which grounded its fleet worldwide and resulted in the cancellation or delay of thousands of flights.

Democrat Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts sent the letters on Tuesday, expressing their concerns with the state of the IT networks used by the major airlines to coordinate air travel. The senators expressed their concerns that the systems used are outdated, which may continue to cause massive headaches for air travelers if the airlines do not commit to a modernization of their networks.

The letter expressed concern that the IT networks rely on technology from the 1960’s, which leaves the systems susceptible not just failures, but also cyberattacks. The letter included 10 questions to the airlines, focusing on the state of their IT networks, their plans to modernize and how they treat customers who have suffered a delay or cancellation as a result of a technical failure.

One question reads, “What specific safeguards and backups does your company have in place to prevent your airline’s IT systems from failing?” the Senators also ask the airline’s to outline what protections they have to safeguard against power outages, technology glitches and cyberattacks. The letter also asks airlines who have been a part of a merger in the past 15 years to explain how their operating systems and technologies have been combined.

The senators are members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and have focused their criticism on the airline industry in the past. Markey sent a letter in December 2015 to domestic air carriers, requesting information regarding their cybersecurity measures and the state of their computer networks.

The letter addressed Delta, Southwest, American, United, JetBlue, Alaska, Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, Hawaiian, Virgin America, Sun Country and Island Air Hawaii. You can read the letter by clicking here.

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