How computer problems caused the ground stoppage at United Airlines


This article is part of a series of Performance retrospectives that assess performance issues for real-world applications in the recent past, analyze what may have happened, and provide best practices that might help you avoid similar issues.

What happened

Attributed to problems with “distribution of information”, all United Airlines flights in the United States were grounded for almost an hour on June 2, 2015. United’s computer problems forced the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a temporary advisory notice early that morning, noting that the shutdown applied to all United Airlines flights.

Why it happened

According to TIME, United Airlines flights have been grounded due to unspecified “automation issues”. United Airlines attributed the delay to incorrect flight information in the airline’s dispatch system. A related Bloomberg article reported that “United has struggled with occasional computer failures since the 2010 merger between former parent company UAL Corp. and Continental Airlines created the current United Continental Holdings Inc. The root cause of the airline’s computer problems appears to be software providing incorrect information to the dispatch system, along with associated integration and / or interdependent systems.

The commercial impact

ABC News quantified the impact in terms of actual flights affected: “United said on Tuesday the nationwide downtime lasted less than an hour and affected around 150 flights, or eight percent of its schedule. morning. passengers delayed to their destination.

Let’s look at the impact of 150 flights delayed by at least an hour: with an average of 237 passengers per plane and seats estimated at $ 100 per passenger, the result is a loss of $ 3,555,000.

This does not take into account all other business impacts on planning, delays in the ecosystem, impact on brand, social media and other resources. Not to mention the Wall Street reaction: Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc. fell 44 cents [nearly 4 percent] to $ 55.88 by mid-afternoon after plunging to $ 54.36 shortly after the FAA release.

Take away food

With the volume of acquisitions and mergers we see today across multiple industries, it’s no surprise that these integrations can wreak havoc on corporate IT systems and cause potentially catastrophic failures that affect end users. .

Reflecting on this performance retrospective, we can see how critical the development and testing of different integrations as well as the design, construction and execution of a strong suite of automated regression tests becomes. The aim must be to mitigate the risks which, in this case, have become a reality for so many passengers.

Considering the end-to-end performance of these integrated legacy systems with their multi-dependency models and often archaic integrations, integrated performance is all the more important.

Image source: Flickr

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