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To be honest, air travel has always been a risk. What is causing the disruptions?

When Tallie Davis’ flight was delayed, she was forced to make a difficult decision. She and her college bowling team were scheduled to board a Southwest Airlines flight at noon Wednesday, returning to Louisville, Kentucky, from Las Vegas, where they had attended a tournament. However, when their first flight was delayed by an hour and a half, leaving them with only five minutes to connect in Chicago, they were forced to consider other options.

They debated going and hoping to “get a pilot who would wait a couple of minutes” for them, or driving the rest of the way from Chicago. However, after speaking with the airline, the 20-year-old stated that the group decided to postpone their flights by one day at no cost.

Davis, who also works as a mental health technician at a psychiatric hospital, had to miss work and had to pay for an extra night at a hotel. However, there were some advantages to the extended visit. “We actually had the day to go out (in Las Vegas), so it’s more of a team bonding experience for us than rushing home,” she explained.

Davis was one of the more fortunate passengers on Wednesday.

A system outage at the Federal Aviation Administration resulted in over 10,000 delayed flights and over 1,000 cancellations, making for a stressful day for passengers and flight crews across the country. For the first time since 9/11, the FAA halted nationwide departures for a portion of the morning.

Aviation’s old technology

Between the FAA’s outage on Wednesday and Southwest’s computer meltdown earlier this winter, experts say it’s clear that the IT systems that power air travel are under strain, particularly as demand for flights rises.

“The system is becoming obsolete. They may be easier to hack at some point because they have more failure points “Alex Cruz, former CEO of British Airways and board member of Fetcherr, an AI firm specialising in airline pricing and revenue management, made the statement.

Cruz added that the airline IT infrastructure performed particularly well during the coronavirus pandemic, when there were fewer people travelling, but now that demand has increased, the systems are straining under renewed strain.

“That’s an unintended IT test that’s happening across the entire industry,” he explained. “It wouldn’t be surprising to see more cases in the coming months as passenger volumes continue to rise.”

When aviation technology fails, are passengers entitled to compensation?

It’s difficult to say for sure.

When an airline cancels a flight for any reason, the Department of Transportation requires the company to refund passengers who do not wish to travel, even if the tickets were nonrefundable.

When there is a flight delay, the regulations become murkier, and policies vary by airline.

When Southwest experienced disruptions, the company agreed to compensate passengers not only with refunds, but also with bonus frequent flyer miles and reimbursements for incidental expenses.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has stated that he will do everything possible to hold Southwest and other airlines responsible.

It’s less clear whether the FAA will be similarly obligated to make passengers whole, though some industry observers, including Brett Snyder of the Cranky Flier blog, are urging the agency to put its money where its mouth is and pay up for its own system error.

“Who should be held accountable when it is the FAA that causes all of these cancellations and delays?” he asked in a Facebook post on Thursday. “The federal government should do it.”

However, passengers should not hold their breath. Buttigieg disagreed Wednesday with the suggestion that the FAA reimburse travellers.

However, for most travellers, it makes little difference who pays. The frustration of delays or cancellations is enough to leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Chris S.E. and his wife were in Boise, Idaho, for his father’s funeral and were scheduled to fly to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. on a United Airlines flight. They ended up sitting for three hours on the tarmac.

The couple missed their connecting flight to Dulles by 15 minutes and spent the next few hours attempting to rebook for a flight that evening but received “zero help from United.” They eventually spent $2,500 of their own money on new tickets.

“I expected United to have all hands on deck,” S.E. explained. “Clearly, a flight nightmare was on the way, and they should have been prepared when we stepped off the plane. Every method we attempted to use to work with United failed miserably, leaving us to fend for ourselves.”

S.E. hopes United will refund his “years of accumulated points” for his original flights, which he and his wife never took.

How can this be resolved?

According to Cruz of Fetcherr, airlines and the federal government must commit to investing in technological advancements or travel disruptions will become more common.

“This is the most significant unspoken item and challenge that the airline industry faces post-(pandemic) recovery and after addressing sustainability issues,” he said. “It cannot be ignored indefinitely.”

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told investors on Friday that Washington must step up to keep the FAA’s systems running smoothly.

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