This has been a relatively quiet week with regard to IT-related problems that tend to annoy us. But we'll start off with transportation systems disrupted by computer issues—two at airlines and one on a metro system. The Chicago Tribune reported that United Airlines suffered “intermittent Internet connectivity issues” last Friday, causing some its computer systems “to run more slowly than normal.” The problem didn’t affect all of United’s operating locations, but it struck the airline's major Chicago O’Hare International Airport hub. Luckily, no flights were delayed or canceled, unlike several other recent episodes.
Passengers on Utah-based SkyWest Airlines weren’t so lucky yesterday. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the centralized aircraft management system that provides flight crews with information on their planes' weight, balance, fuel, and the like crashed on Sunday morning at 0500 Mountain Time and did not return to normal until 0700. Flights were disrupted for the remainder of the day as a result.
Also yesterday, an unexplained computer system failure shut down Montreal’s entire metro system at 0800 EST. News reports say that restoration of service began about 45 minutes later.
Also in Canada were reports earlier in the week about some 9000 Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding Corp. wireless customers who received incorrect bills which the company says “may range from a few cents to [CN] $100 000.” The story at the Globe and Mail quotes a SaskTel spokesperson as saying that a “network capacity enhancement” to its 4G LTE network resulted in customers' Saskatchewan data being charged at U.S. data rates.
The SaskTel spokesperson went on to say, “We apologize for any inconvenience. Thank you for your patience as we continue making network improvements.”
A spokesperson from Cuscal, the owner of the RediATM network in Australia, also “sincerely” apologized, to users of its ATM network over the weekend. The network reportedly crashed for about three hours on Saturday, disabling ATMs across Australia. According to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, the RediATM network is one of the largest in Australia, with about 3000 ATMs. On top of the inconvenience of not having access to an ATM during a major holiday season shopping day, apparently some customers reported that "money had been deducted from their accounts, despite an error message appearing on the ATM screens declaring the transaction had failed.” Cuscal stated that it has taken action to reimburse cardholders, but if any problems are not resolved, customers can submit a complaint form to them today.
Finally, also in Australia, AFP reports that Victorian police are warning Apple Map users not to depend on the app to navigate to the inland town of Mildura, which is about 310 kilometers northwest of Melbourne, as it could turn deadly. Instead of being directed to the town, Apple Map users are being sent “off the beaten track” to isolated and hazardous terrain in the Murray Sunset National Park, some 70 kilometers away from Mildura.
AFP reports that the police have released a statement saying, they are "extremely concerned as there is no water supply within the park and temperatures can reach as high as 46 degrees Celsius (114 F), making this a potentially life threatening issue.”
Police said that they have had to rescue lost drivers and passengers from at least five vehicles that have been stranded in the park without food or water for 24 hours as a result of following Apple Map directions to Mildura. One lost driver got stuck in an area of the park which had no cell phone coverage, and had to walk for 24 hours before he was able to find a signal and call police to be rescued.
Apple would not comment on the story except to refer “to an earlier statement that it was doing everything it could to fix problems with the maps application in the new operating system used by the iPhone 5,” the AFP story states. Victorian police say they have contacted Apple about the issue.
Unfortunately, the AFP story doesn’t say where Apple Maps sends you when you actually want to drive to Murray Sunset National Park. Anyone know?
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.