Last Saturday at about 0300 Pacific Time, while a back-up power system was being installed, a transformer blew which took down the central computer system that Alaska Airlines and its regional partner Horizon Air use to do their flight planning. The airlines went to their back-up systems and the technical problem was eventually fixed by Saturday night.
However, by then, the airlines had to cancel some 150 flights (about 18% of their Saturday schedules) which affected 12,000 passengers. The computer outage also delayed thousands of other passengers by two hours or more in most cases. Some of the affected passengers are still trying to get home as of today.
The airlines were pretty good about spreading the word of the problems they were encountering, with plenty of press and other media releases coming out about the situation's current status. Alaska Airlines President Brad Tilden and Horizon Air President Glenn Johnson even delivered an explanation of the problem and offered an apology on YouTube on Saturday afternoon while the issues were still being addressed.
In most cases like this, the airline involved says little about what is happening until it is almost over, and then says something along the lines that it's truly sorry, but hey, computer stuff happens, so live with it. You'd be lucky to find any mention of the problem in one of the airline's official press releases, let alone see a YouTube video from the airline's president explaining what is happening.
In addition, Alaska and Horizon have said they are going to offer tangible compensation to those passengers affected, this Seattle Times article reports. The compensation will vary based on the level of disruption suffered.
An Alaska Airlines spokesperson was quoted in the Times article as saying:
"We're going to make it right for our customers, no matter what... We don't yet have specifics on what will be involved. It will vary based on the length of the delay or cancelation and how quickly we could get them on another flight."
Most likely the compensation will take the "form of certificates good for future travel, fare discounts or reimbursements for expenses such as meals and lodging," the Times reports.
The compensation won't make everything perfect, but it is a very nice gesture, especially since neither airline is legally obligated to do so. I bet the passengers flying other airlines that have suffered computer glitches would have appreciated a similar gesture.
In fact, wouldn't it be nice if every company that experienced an IT glitch not only was as open about about it as Alaska and Horizon have been, but also offered their customers more than their "sincerest apologizes for the inconvenience"?
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.