Not to be outdone by rival American Airlines, today United showed that they’re just as capable of stranding passengers due to IT failures.
Citing what they called a “network connectivity issue” and what the FAA referred to as “user request due to automation issues,” the internal systems used by United to coordinate their flights broke down around 8:35 am ET, resulting in all of their planes to be grounded worldwide for roughly an hour and a half, and stranding thousands of passengers in airports all over the globe. Of course, while the outage itself may have lasted less than two hours, such a major disruption of these flights means that passengers will be feeling the effects of it throughout the day.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time in recent years that United has suffered from internal hardware or software problems. This latest example is the most widespread outage thus far, but takeoffs were halted just last month (also due to automation issues), computer issues caused disruptions in both January and February of 2014, and there were four separate incidents in 2012 in which glitches adversely affected United flights and the passengers traveling on them.
Obviously these are all perfect examples of the need for a comprehensive synthetic monitoring strategy of internal systems, but this latest one also highlights the need for prompt communication with customers in order to maintain some semblance of brand integrity during such outages. In a situation like this, people affected will likely go to a company’s Facebook or Twitter account in order to get the most up-to-date information. Journalist Betsy Fischer Martin was among the many United passengers stuck on the ground this morning, and first Tweeted about her ordeal at 8:35 am ET:
Our @united airlines pilot on their global outage. “It’s like someone pulled the plug on our computers – It’s embarrassing, I apologize .”
— Betsy Fischer Martin (@BFischerMartin) July 8, 2015
Meanwhile, the first social media communication from United didn’t come until over an hour later, and contained no information that a stranded passenger would have found helpful.
We experienced a network connectivity issue. We are working to resolve and apologize for any inconvenience. — United (@united) July 8, 2015
Nearly an hour after that – i.e. roughly two hours after the issue first occurred – they Tweeted once more and directed passengers to their homepage to fill out a waiver for flight changes.
We’re recovering from a network connectivity issue & restoring flight ops. We’ll have a waiver on http://t.co/ufFoKFTNNe to change flights.
— United (@united) July 8, 2015
Yet when you get there, there’s no link to a waiver:
Dealing with online failures is more than just fast detection of problems and putting backup systems in place to get you back up and running as soon as possible. It also requires a thorough PR strategy to communicate the issue to customers, help them as much as possible, and if you can, make amends for the inconvenience it caused. Not doing so only compounds the failure, and makes it much less likely that they will remain customers in the future.