Flights already in the air were allowed to continue to their destinations, but planes on the ground from coast to coast could not take off. And travelers could do little to get back in the air until the computer system was restored.
By late afternoon, American resumed international flights and those from its major hub airports. It scrambled during the evening to put planes and crews in position to get off to a good start on Wednesday morning.
“Despite the magnitude of today’s disruption, we are pleased to report that we expect our operation to run normally with only a small number of flight cancellations” on Wednesday, said Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American. She said American would add flights to accommodate stranded passengers.
American blamed the outage on a loss of access to computer networks that are used for flight reservations and many other functions. Airlines commonly rely on such systems to track passengers and bags, monitor who boards planes, and update flight schedules and gate assignments. The computers are also used to file flight plans and tell employees which seats should be filled to ensure that the plane is properly balanced.
American’s system is hosted by Sabre Holdings, a one-time division of American that was spun off into a separate travel-reservations technology company. American said the outage wasn’t Sabre’s fault, and other airlines that use Sabre didn’t experience problems.
At airports, customers whose flights were canceled couldn’t rebook on a later flight. Passengers already at the airport were stuck in long lines or killed time in gate areas.
“Tensions are high. A lot of people are getting mad. I’ve seen several yelling at the American agents,” said Julie Burch, a business-meeting speaker who was stuck at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport waiting for a flight to Denver. “Nobody can tell us anything.”