SMAAS, SERVICE MANAGEMENT, TOOLS-SECURITY
12 August

Last week Delta Airlines suffered a much publicized systems outage that caused a flight disruption for thousands of travelers. The culprit appeared to be a Georgia Power outage, although Delta has since taken ownership  of the disruption.

Mistakes happen. As Delta finalizes resolution and makes things right, there are two important lessons to take from this event: one from the cause and one from the aftermath.

The cause: legacy systems and modern networks

It’s easy to point to aging systems like the ones airlines use, but experts say it’s not that simple. I was listening to the radio on my commute this week, and I heard one expert say the old computer systems have worked well, but the vulnerability comes from the IT networks and systems that have built up around them are so numerous and complex. As airlines merge and offer more options to passengers, their complexity grows.

Complexity can cause a flight disruption.

APIs help modern cloud applications and systems work together, but any IT pro will tell you that older legacy software like aviation systems are a whole different animal. Complex systems build up around the core legacy systems like our human brains evolving around our reptilian brains. Well, for most of us anyway.

The difficulty of integrating these old and new systems is something to watch, as we have seen software issues bring down two airlines in the last few weeks. Engineers, technicians, contractors, and third-party employees have to work in tandem to build and maintain all the moving parts to ensure the whole colossus does not come crashing down.

The aftermath: tell your customers

We have written many times about the importance of being open with your customers. Proactive communication improves trust, which increases customer retention.

You might lose some customers due to the inconvenience of a flight disruption, but those that stay are likely to be more loyal.

As far as I can tell, airlines are largely commoditized except for where their hubs are and whether they have had a recent flight disruption. Since Monday Delta has cancelled more than 2,000 flights and delayed still more, producing a population of potential passengers who may never fly Delta again.

Adding to the cost, the airline has issued a voucher to each passenger whose flight has been cancelled or significantly delayed. Good for Delta for making things right. I have flown Delta in the past and had good experiences. I know Delta can and will do better.