Airline technical outages: vulnerable systems, customer reactions

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A recent technology outage that resulted in thousands of flight cancellations by American Airlines' wholly owned regional subsidiary PSA has drummed up memories of major IT meltdowns that Delta and Southwest experienced in 2016; those also resulted in thousands of flight cancellations and millions in lost revenue for those airlines.

Given the high levels of complexity in the airline business, technical glitches and outages are inevitable. And even though airlines can calculate the effects of cancelled flights and reaccommodation on their respective revenues, measuring the long term ramifications of customer sentiment in the aftermath of these outages is difficult. The heightened outrage that is prevalent on social media during technology breakdowns is another challenge that airlines face as they work to correct problems and return to normal operations.

The likelihood of future IT outages remains high, given the larger reliance that all companies, not just airlines, put on technology. But US airlines are now in a position to make necessary investments to mitigate the effects of technical mishaps.

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