Some 450 Southwest Airlines flights have been canceled Thursday in the wake of a massive system outage that grounded hundreds of flights across the country, according to FlightAware.com.
Southwest began having intermittent problems with several computer systems Wednesday afternoon. Airline CEO Gary Kelly said the main system failed, then the backup failed, then the restoration failed.
It took about 12 hours to restore the system, which was up and running around 2 a.m. Thursday. Southwest officials said they had not identified the cause of the outage.
Linda Rutherford, vice president of communications for Southwest, posted an apology on the airline's website Thursday morning, telling customers, "your experience throughout the past 24 hours is not the service you should expect from Southwest Airlines."
About 450 flights had been canceled as of 3:45 p.m. Thursday as employees "continue to manage the flight disruptions across our system," according to Rutherford.
"Thank you for hanging in there with us," she said, adding, "we will continue to work with each and every affected Customer to make this right."
For about three hours Wednesday, visitors to Southwest.com couldn't buy tickets, check in for flights or check their flight's status. The site appeared to be working by late afternoon, then crashed again.
The airline briefly held planes at their gates and delays piled up. Shortly before 11 p.m., Southwest said the outages had caused 600 to 700 canceled and delayed flights. Tracking service FlightStats Inc. put the numbers much higher — 400 cancellations and 2,000 delays.
Southwest warned customers flying Thursday to check their flight's status online and arrive at the airport early in anticipation of long lines. The airline is working to accommodate passengers who missed their flights Wednesday and will waive rebooking fees for affected customers, Kelly said.
Leah Boyd and her husband, Matt, were flying to Providence, Rhode Island, but were held up at the Baltimore airport for three hours by mechanical issues with two different planes.
They finally boarded a plane, but after sitting at the gate for nearly an hour passengers were asked to exit because of the technology outage, Boyd said. Then the pilots reached the end of their shifts, so passengers waited for a replacement crew.
The Boyds ended up canceling their reservations and planned to drive to Rhode Island on Thursday instead. Leah figured it would be hard to find seats on another flight.
"I've never seen so many people in the terminal," she said. "All these people are going to be flying standby."
Airlines have sprawling, overlapping and complicated technology systems, and even brief outages can cause thousands of passengers to be stranded for hours.
Last October, an outage caused about 800 Southwest flights to be delayed and forced employees to issue tickets and boarding passes by hand. The airline blamed a software application, and it recovered in about a day. United Airlines and American Airlines both had computer problems last summer but fixed the problems within a day.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. carries more passengers within the United States than any airline. However, it is far smaller than American, Delta and United when international traffic is included.