United’s booking troubles and systems shutdown. Again.

Thursday afternoon was not a good one for United Airlines. The company made a massive error in their fare load causing many, many city pairs to load at $5 each way. The company figured it out reasonably quickly and moved to rectify the problem in a short matter of time. But the impact of the error lasted much longer than that. Thanks to the way fares are published the company could not immediately undo the change. So they shut down instead. This is what the United website showed as they began to lock down the site:


And, eventually, they managed to get a notice up on the front page of the site:


Not entirely clear about the circumstances but true enough, I suppose.

The outage was not a short one. The systems were offline for several hours in the middle of the day. For a company which does $100mm in revenue daily that is a lot of potential lost revenue lost while trying to figure this mess out. It also isn’t the first time the company has taken such an approach to managing a systems issue. Just over a year ago there was the somewhat infamous 4 mile awards to/from/via China mess. At that time the company removed a number of airports from the valid city pairs list, blocking them from being booked. At the time I called it “going nuclear.” Compared to the incident this week that is now looking like a rather small issue indeed.

United eventually released a statement saying that the site outage “was not technology-based” and essentially admitted that this was the only way they could fix the problem. Just another fun day running an airline.

We’ll see what happens with the fares being honored or not. That will be a fun carnival to watch, I’m sure. It does once again raise the issue of Is there such a thing as too much consumer protection?

Update (3pm EDT 13 Sept): United is honoring the tickets. Have fun, everyone!

And, for anyone curious, I missed out on this one. Not many PQDs to be had on the fare anyways. Winking smile

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.