We start off this week’s review of IT-related “ooftas” with Italian airline Alitalia deciding to honor most of the tickets that were mistakenly sold at a heavier than planned discount. As described by ABC News, Alitalia was offering a limited-time world-wide 25 percent ticket discount, but for “technical reasons” the airline had to create a “unique E-Coupon worth 25,000 yen (approximately 250 euro) to be used exclusively for the purchase of flights from Tokyo or Osaka.”
However, a “system malfunction” occurred that allowed the E-Coupon to be used on all of Alitalia’s routes. As a result, the coupon made the cost of flying on some Alitalia flights like that from Rome to Milan, which normally costs 115 euros, effectively “free.” As expected, word of the “bargain” spread like wildfire over social media networks.
At first, Alitalia said it would not honor the E-Coupon discounts outside of Japan, but later changed its tune saying that it would honor all tickets that cost at least one euro cent after the coupon discount was taken. “Free flights” ticket holders were out of luck. No word on how many travelers scored €0.01 tickets, how many lost out altogether, and how much this is going to end up costing Alitalia.
In another airline ticket pricing glitch, Scottish paper The Courier reported that on the commuter airline CityJet’s London to Dundee flights (the only direct service between the two cities), the online cost of booking a return ticket during late- November had jumped from an average £168 to £535. CityJet didn’t notice the increase until customers called up and complained about the massive price spike.
The airline soon fixed the glitch, and apologized to customers who might have decided to not book a flight because of the mistake. It's unclear if anyone actually paid the mistaken higher ticket price, and subsequently received a refund for the corrected fare.
If you like cheddar cheese and live in the UK, you were in luck this week because of a pricing glitch at Tesco super markets. A computer error transformed what was supposed to be a £1 off deal on the sale of twin-packs of 350g Cathedral City Mature Cheddars (normally selling for £6.55) instead into a total price of £1 for the twin-pack of cheese, the Daily Mail reported. Well, faster than Wallace telling Gromit to grab the crackers, cheddar cheese lovers descended on Tesco stores and bought as many twin-packs as they could.
Tesco put a brave face on the fiasco, insisting that it wasn’t a glitch at all, saying instead that, “Our popular offer continues while stocks last.”
You may recall a similar Tesco pricing error caused a beer and cider stampede last year.
There were also car-related software glitches, one in the GM Volt and the other in BMW 7-Series cars, that surfaced this week. TheNew York Times reported that GM was going to upgrade the software in about 4,000 2013 plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt cars because a “software anomaly” associated with the vehicle's delayed time and rate charge mode could cause the electric motor to shut off while the vehicle is being driven. GM is telling owners to turn off the mode, which “allows owners to preselect a convenient time to charge the Volt’s batteries,” until the software is patched by a dealer.
The Detroit News reported that BMW is recalling 7,485 2005-07 7-Series for a software problem that “may allow the doors to inadvertently open when they appear closed.” BMW states in a letter to the National Highway Traffics Safety Administration (pdf) that, “The door may unexpectedly open due to road or driving conditions or occupant contact with the door. The sudden opening may result in occupant ejection or increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash.”
While no crashes or injuries have been reported as a result of the bug, there have been at least two complaints of inadvertent door openings, the Detroit News article stated. Safety regulators have known about the bug for five years, although I suspect very few BMW 7-series owners have even heard about it until now. Apparently, BMW and the NHTSA have been in long-time discussions over whether the issue warranted a recall or not. BMW says it thinks 70 to 80 percent of the affected vehicles have already received the software fix through the normal vehicle maintenance cycle.
Finally, on Monday the Amazon Cloud suffered yet another outage. About 1038 PDT, problems started to appear in Amazon's Northern Virginia data center, which lasted for some twelve hours. Dozens of web sites, including Airbnb, Flipboard and Reddit, were affected as a result. Amazon’s Cloud suffered problems back in June, as well as just a few weeks ago.
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.