Australian discount airline Virgin Blue's automated reservation and baggage system crashed yet again today, forcing airline staff to revert to manual operations. This probably didn't cause Virgin Blue's staff too much trouble, since this is, I believe, the fourth outage of its "new" reservation system since it became operational last June.
You may remember that in September of 2010, a major reservation system glitch caused havoc to 50,000 Virgin Blue customers for over a week and a half.
According to this report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Blue customers started sending Twitter messages complaining about check-in problems "in Sydney Airport at 4.43pm, at Hobart airport at 4.46pm, at Canberra at 5.01pm, at Melbourne airport at 5.07pm and at Brisbane at 5.21pm."
How long the outage lasted is in dispute. A story at the Herald Sun quotes a Virgin Blue spokesperson downplaying the interruption, saying that it was "not a major worry." The spokesperson claimed that the outage only lasted a few minutes, and that it was caused by an upgrade to Virgin Blue's network.
This explanation doesn't seem entirely plausible for a couple of reasons. This article in the Courier Mail, for example, states that Virgin Blue customers were complaining for at least an hour and forty minutes about the outage via Twitter. The article also says that SkyNews reported the outage as lasting two hours.
Another reason I am a bit skeptical of the Virgin Blue's explanation is that I find it hard to believe that Virgin Blue would do a network upgrade during the peak of the afternoon travel period instead of waiting to do so overnight.
I'll update this post if any more information is forthcoming from Virgin, which I am quite sure would like this latest incident quickly slip down the old memory hole.
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.