Power outage at Delta HQ grounds hundreds of flights

Don’t Blame Hackers Every Time Airlines Have Computer Trouble. They Mess Up All on Their Own.

Don’t Blame Hackers Every Time Airlines Have Computer Trouble. They Mess Up All on Their Own.

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 8 2016 10:47 AM

Don’t Blame Hackers Every Time Airlines Have Computer Trouble. They Mess Up All on Their Own.

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Someone pulled the plug on the On-Time Machine.

Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

A bad summer for airplane travel got worse on Monday morning, when a power outage at Delta's Atlanta headquarters forced the company to ground all flights for nearly three hours, leaving thousands of travelers delayed or stranded across the world. Flights in the air were not affected.

The power failure struck at 2:30 a.m., the company said on its website, and "impacted Delta computer systems and operations worldwide"—so much so that airport screens and apps incorrectly showed that flights were on time. Nearly all of the hundred-plus Delta flights leaving Atlanta before noon are delayed, and a few have been canceled. That number is likely to grow as delays pile up; the company, which is the second-largest domestic carrier in the U.S., said to expect "large-scale cancellations."

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People will speculate that "power outage" is a panic-room euphemism for "hack," but airlines have proved susceptible, again and again, to tech failures of their own making. Two weeks ago, a faulty router forced Southwest Airlines to cancel 2,300 flights over a five-day period. CBS reports that law enforcement sees no evidence of foul play. More likely, someone tripped over a cord in Atlanta. It looks like a big, unforced error for a company that has been trying to trademark the slogan, "The On-Time Machine."

Delta is offering refunds and free changes to anyone flying before Friday, August 12.

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Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox.