First, Southwest Airlines’ meltdown. Now, the FAA has one, too? What’s next?

Photo (c) Martim DM - Getty Images

Congressional leaders are already venting about the situation.

Travelers woke up Wednesday morning to a flood of cancellations caused by an overnight outage of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Notice to Air Missions system that provides safety info to flight crews.

By 9 am, FlightAware data listed  4,314 total delays within, into, or out of the United States today. The airport hit the hardest was Baltimore/Washington Intl (BWI) where 41% of the flights were delayed.

Southwest, still reeling from its Christmas holiday meltdown, was also hit heavily. Three Southwest hubs – Chicago Midway (37%), Houston Hobby and Dallas Love (31% each) -- were right behind BWI in delays.

By mid-morning, the FAA was able to get things under control and lift its pause on departures. But, on the heels of the Southwest debacle, the question experts are asking is this: does this point to a fragility of the nation's commercial aviation system, which faces heavier demands as air travel demand increases?

“We continue to look into the cause of the initial problem,” the agency tweeted at 8:50 a.m.

Hello, airlines… hello, Pete!

Yaniv Hakim, CEO and co-founder of CommBox, a company that provides digital customer communications platform to airlines told ConsumerAffairs, “The FAA system failure, like the Southwest Airlines fiasco, shows how important it is that every airline will offer their passengers digital services on messaging channels, and provide both human and virtual AI-powered assistance.”

“Airlines need to step it up and offer communication and self-service tasks such as rebooking or canceling flights to their customers in the easiest way possible, not just through websites and apps.”

Hakim said that instead of customers taking to social media to complain about airlines or waiting for hours on hold, they should be able to quickly and easily take care of their concerns through channels like social media messaging, SMS texting, and WhatsApp. 

“When a traveler is stressed and stranded at an airport, especially during a major disruption - whether human, technical or natural - the last thing they want to do is wait on hold, download an app or listen to irrelevant options from an [interactive voice response] system."

In an email to ConsumerAffairs, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) wasted no time saying that he’s already gotten into Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s ear about the issue.

"I spoke with Secretary Buttigieg about this development and will continue to monitor this disruption to our air travel system until it is resolved."

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