Why Delta’s Outage Caused Such Widespread Headaches

Monday's system-wide computer outage at Delta Air Lines continues to disrupt travel, with the cancellation of more than 2,100 flights and the delay of many more since the snafu began. Hundreds of thousands of passengers were stranded around the globe as the ripples spread out from Delta's Atlanta headquarters.

The air carrier initially blamed the computer shutdown on a power outage by the Atlanta utility company but later said it was the result of an internal outage followed by the failure of a backup system to take over when the main computer system failed.

The airline had projected a return to normal operations by Wednesday afternoon, but delays and cancellations continued to mount.

"We're in the final hours of bouncing back from the disruption," Delta Senior Vice President Bill Lentsch said in an online update Wednesday.

Delta on Wednesday extended the period during which affected passengers can rearrange their travel plans without penalty and widened the pool to people with tickets for Tuesday and Wednesday flights. The company originally said rebooking and travel had to happen by Friday to avoid paying a change fee, but now customers have until Aug. 21. Delta also is offering refunds and $200 in travel vouchers to people whose flights were canceled or delayed at least three hours and is putting people up in hotels.

To find out what happened and why the effects were so widespread, The Times turned to industry experts Jan Brueckner, an economics professor at UC Irvine; Mark Gerchick, an author and former chief counsel at the Federal Aviation Administration; and Sam Kidd, an account manager at Zerto, a Boston-based data disaster recovery software company. Here are edited excerpts from those interviews.

Why was the impact of this computer shutdown so widespread?

Brueckner: Following a series of mergers over the past decade, 80% of all domestic travel is...

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