Double fiber cut takes airline offline

10 Oct 2012

Two cuts in Sprint Nextel's optical-fiber network interrupted Alaska Airlines' internet connectivity on Monday morning, severing its access to the Sabre ticketing system.

The fiber cuts, the first between Chicago and Milwaukee and the second between Tacoma and Portland, took the airline's computer systems in California, Oregon, Washington and Minnesota off line so it couldn't check customers in. Without network access, it had to resort to checking in passengers manually, which Alaska Airlines stated on its Facebook page "will be slow and flights will depart late."

Sprint said coverage was restored after about five hours, but not before 78 flights were cancelled and almost 7,000 passengers were left stranded.

The airline was gracious enough to offer passengers the option to rebook or reschedule flights on Monday and Tuesday without paying the standard fee.

No doubt Alaska Airlines is asking Sprint some tough questions -- top of the list being how two severed cables 2,000 miles apart could so easily bring down the airline's mission-critical ticketing system. And why did the carrier's redundancy planning rely on a single alternative routing? Three of course is the magic number.

Alternatively, it's generally standard practice, particularly after a number of high-profile cable breaks a few years back, for large enterprises to have a multi-service provider strategy so they aren't reliant on one cable system. Is the lack of a backup carrier due to severe cost pressure in the airline industry?

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