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Computer issue grounds Alaska Airlines passengers

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Oct. 8, 2012 at 9:11 am |
October 8, 2012 2:44 pm

Alaska Airlines’ ticketing and check-in operations were slowly returning to normal this afternoon after a communications cable break in Wisconsin temporarily grounded the airline this morning.

The airline said it will waive change fees for passengers whose flights were affected today if they rebook for travel to be completed by Oct. 22.

“Customers who are scheduled to travel on October 8th or 9th have the option to cancel your flight and receive a refund of your un-flown airfare. Should you still wish to travel the same itinerary, you can change your ticket for travel prior to October 22, 2012, at no charge,” said Alaska President Brad Tilden in a message to customers. “Customers who still need to make changes can be re-accommodated via alaskaair.com or by calling Reservations at (800) 252-7522.”

The Sea-Tac-based carrier’s operations ground to a halt about 7:40 a.m. after a Sprint communications cable linking the airline’s computer network to the Sabre scheduling system was severed.

At Sea-Tac Airport, the airport’s lobby quickly filled with passengers waiting to check in, but the system, both at the self-help kiosks and at the manned counters quit functioning.

Passengers who had already obtained their boarding passes at home or elsewhere were allowed to proceed to the gates, but aircraft were not departing.

But passengers who didn’t have boarding passes, who needed to buy or exchange tickets or who wanted to check luggage were stymied by the outage.

Alaska Airlines President Tilden, who was speaking at a press conference at the airport with Delta Airlines President Richard Anderson as the crisis was unfolding, issued an apology to Alaska passengers and employees who were inconvenienced by the disruption. Delta announced new international service from Sea-Tac at that press conference. Alaska is a partner with Delta. The two airlines exchange about 1,200 passengers a day at Sea-Tac.

The airline began checking in passengers manually about 9 a.m. when the computer system still wasn’t restored. That process was tedious because of the lack of passenger lists and automated seating charts.

Betty and Phillip Noble of Spanaway, were dressed in shorts, Hawaiian print shirts and straw hats as they stood in the queue awaiting some sign of a reboot at the ticket counter. The two were headed for a week’s vacation in the islands.

Or so they thought. Their 11:30 a.m. departure was postponed.

“We may just have to come back tomorrow,” said Betty Noble as they pondered whether to stay at the airport or head home and try to rebook for Tuesday.

Henk Streetman was waiting with his extended family to embark on a flight to Los Angeles and Disneyland. They had already waiting two and a half hours Monday morning without any word whether their 11:45 a.m. flight would leave.

Grandson Ramsey Robinson, 2, was anxious to make it to the Magic Kingdom, but the computer gods were not cooperating.

Chris and Amanda Desant of Enumclaw were bound for Phoenix. They had hoped to make it to the Arizona city on a 9 a.m. flight.

“At this rate, we’ll be lucky to get on the plane by 9 p.m.,” said Chris Desant.

Sprint said two cable problems affected its system, one in the Midwest between Milwaukee and Chicago and one in the Northwest between Seattle and Portland.

The Pacific Northwest fiber optic cable break also affected Rainier Connect Internet customers in Pierce County who experienced slow service or who were unable to connect with some websites.

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