A problem with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system caused the agency to order flights across the United States to be grounded for several hours Wednesday morning, leading to a ripple effect of nearly 9,000 delays and more than 1,200 cancellations by mid-afternoon, according to FlightAware.
Although temporary, Wednesday’s flight stoppage will likely cause aftershocks felt throughout the travel and hospitality sectors. And it calls attention to the need for updated technology as well as stronger passenger rights, industry experts say. The latest air travel crisis comes on the heels of Southwest Airlines’ holiday travel ordeal that left many passengers left stranded or without luggage.
Philip Ballard, executive at hotel deals booking service HotelPlanner, predicts the stoppage “will discourage some people from flying right now, especially after last month’s Southwest Airlines incident.”
It will also impact hotels, which rely on a “reliable and predictable aviation industry” to maintain high occupancy rates and RevPAR (revenue per available room), according to Ballard.
“Nationwide aviation shutdowns, however temporary, always affect the hospitality industry's bottom line because the industries are mutually dependent on each other,” he says. “Hotel managers nationwide are likely being forced to make a lot of adjustments today to keep up with all the reservation modifications and cancellations, as well as new bookings for stranded travelers.”
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Ballard recommends that passengers whose flights have been canceled or delayed rebook online with their smartphone or by calling the airline's international number for faster service.
Late Wednesday, the FAA released a statement that a preliminary investigation traced the outage to a "damaged database file" and did not find evidence of a cyber attack. The investigation will continue to pinpoint what caused the disruption.
Eric Napoli, vice president of legal strategy at air passenger rights company AirHelp, says that “in all cases for issues beyond an airline’s control, like today’s FAA outage, airlines are not required to compensate passengers” whose flights are delayed or canceled. In the U.S., compensation is only required if passengers are denied boarding from an oversold flight, Napoli adds.
“The Department of Transportation is pushing for stronger passenger rights,” he says. “The chaotic summer travel season and the recent experience of passengers impacted by the Southwest flight disruptions over the holidays exemplify why better protections are needed in the U.S.”
Legacy systems that airline teams are using often exacerbate delays, says Anand Krishnan, CEO of travel technology company IBS Software.
Krishnan says airlines running modern IT systems and using SaaS solutions are significantly better positioned to manage this level of disruption, because they have the data and insight they need to quickly make alternative plans to mitigate customer frustration.
“Transforming IT infrastructure is complicated, and it takes courage and expertise to make it happen. But disruption is not going away,” Krishnan says.
“Moving away from legacy technology means [airlines] can rebuild trust by being in a position to help [customers] quickly and keep them informed during the next inevitable disruption the industry faces.”