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April 17, 2013

American expects flights to return to normal

DALLAS —

American Airlines is promising to run a near-normal operation on Wednesday, and that would be just fine for the tens of thousands of passengers who were stranded by a mammoth technology meltdown at the nation’s third-biggest airline.

On Tuesday, American and sister airline American Eagle canceled about 1,000 flights and delayed at least 1,100 more, according to flight-tracking services.

That means American and Eagle canceled or delayed nearly two-thirds of their scheduled flights after they lost access to a computer system that’s used for everything from issuing boarding passes to determining how much fuel to pump into the plane.

It was a public-relations nightmare for American, which is preparing to merge with US Airways and become the world’s biggest carrier. Passengers took to social media sites to criticize the airline, which for hours could only apologize and say that it was trying to fix the problem.

American posted a video apology from CEO Tom Horton that provided the airline’s most detailed explanation of the outage.

“As you’d imagine, we do have redundancies in our system,” Horton said, standing in front of employees and banks of computer monitors in the airline’s control center in Texas, “but unfortunately in this case we had a software issue that impacted both our primary and backup systems.”

The man who will lead American in a few months, US Airways CEO Doug Parker, has said he would prefer to convert his planes and employees to American’s computer system rather than the other way around.

US Airways declined to comment on whether Tuesday’s breakdown would cause Parker to rethink his plans.

The computer outage began snarling operations around midmorning. Eventually the Federal Aviation Administration issued a so-called ground stop for American Airlines jets around the country.

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