Delays and confusion blighted the weekend for thousands of Air India passengers as more than 150 flights of the airline, out of its main hubs of Delhi and Mumbai, were disrupted because of a six-hour breakdown in its server.
The information technology (IT) outage occurred when air travel solution company SITA was carrying out scheduled maintenance of the server. SITA, the Atlanta-based firm, handles Air India’s departure control, check-in and automated boarding control, and baggage handling systems. The glitch forced Air India to cancel around 10 flights and caused a delay of around two hours for 155 flights, including those of its subsidiary airlines Air India Express and Alliance Air. Several of these flights were scheduled to fly on international routes.
Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani said he expected normalisation of operations by Saturday night (April 27).
“The passenger service system was scheduled for maintenance between 3.30 am and 4.30 am as generally there are no flights during that period. After 4.30 am, the system was not able to come live as there were technical glitches. It remained shut till 8.45 am,” Lohani said.
Forward connections of some international flights were also impacted “The Kathmandu-Delhi flight will face problems in establishing forward international connections. Flights coming to India from Singapore and Bangkok will also face problems in their forward international connections,” an Air India executive said.
While the airline didn’t cancel any of its west-bound long-haul flights, the disruption forced it to reschedule flights to London, Madrid, Copenhagen and Sydney. In Delhi and Mumbai, passengers faced a harrowing time as most of them had arrived at the airport uninformed for their early morning flights and found out that the airline's system was down.
Kuldeep Sharan, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, woke up at 4:30 am and reached the airport on time for his 7 am flight to Mumbai. “I reached airport on time and was taken aback by long queues at Air India counters. The boarding card systems were not working and no one knew by when they would be restored,” Sharan said. He was given a manual boarding pass and asked to manually carry his luggage to the secured zone. “It was chaos,” he said.
Many passengers, unable to get in touch with the airline’s call centre, took to Twitter to complain about the difficulties faced by them. Others were disappointed over delays in getting seats in alternative flights. “My Mumbai-Nagpur flight took off five hours late and I missed a planned safari ride at the Kanha national park,” said Amrita Sadhu. Debashish Borah complained that his wife was being offered an alternative flight from Delhi to Paris on May 2 after a missed connection on Saturday. “This is beyond bizarre,” he said.
Air India’s primary tool of communication was social media as the call centre lines couldn’t keep up with the rush of enquiries. “The magnitude is so big. It is possible that our call centre is not able to handle the volume,” Lohani said. “During crisis, we use the passenger service system (PSS) to get contact information of passengers. But here the PSS itself had stopped working,” he said, adding that passengers whose flights were cancelled would be provided hotel accommodations or rescheduled flights.
A senior Air India executive said the airline would need to extend flight duty timings for the crew. The airline was also dispatching three pilots for its Europe-bound flights, instead of the regular two, to factor in the duty hours. “Air India has informed the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) about the extension of flight duty timings.
Most of the long-haul flights have been rescheduled but we are taking extra care by dispatching an extra set of crew,” the official said. Civil aviation regulations allow for extension of flight duty times in unforeseen circumstances.
The exact reason for the outage was yet to be determined and SITA said that it was working to find the root cause behind the disruption. “SITA experienced a complex system issue during server maintenance early this morning, which resulted in operational disruption to Air India flights. We have now fully restored services at all airports where Air India was affected. We are undertaking a full investigation to understand the root cause and prevent a recurrence,” a SITA spokesperson said. Lohani refused to comment if the airline would be seeking compensation from SITA for the disruption. “We will have to look into what the contract says,” he said.