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BREAKING: Computer Glitch Causes Widespread Delays

CNN is reporting that a computer glitch in Atlanta has set off a wave of delays across the country. The system in question is used by pilots to file flight plans, which must now be done manually. There is no security issue, but delays are mounting and some airlines are beginning to cancel flights. The AP reports that AirTran has cancelled 22 flights, CBS News says Delta is experiencing “significant delays and cancelations” in Atlanta and across the country.

The full impact of the glitch is as yet unknown, though problems seem to be worst in Atlanta. Of course, Atlanta is the busiest airport in the nation—a major hub for Delta and AirTran and primary connection other carriers as well—so expect delays to increase elsewhere.

I will post updates here as they come in. If you are flying today, particularly to or from the eastern half of the U.S. (and especially to and from Atlanta), I would suggest checking your reservation or contacting your airline to see if your flight will be affected.

**UPDATE: 9:37 a.m.** According to CBS News, “The practical ramifications of this problem are that the entire air traffic control system on the East Coast is slowed to about 40-50 percent of what a normal day would look like.”

**UPDATE: 9:50 a.m.** Ben Mutzabaugh at USA Today is reporting that, for now, the worst delays seem to be confined to the South. He says a reader from Chicago wrote in to say delays at OHare were minimal. Washington, D.C., area news outlet WOTP, however, is  reporting growing delays at both Dulles and Reagan National airports.

All that could change, however, if delays in Atlanta worsen and the ripple effect of delays across the country grows.

In the meantime, if you’re traveling today, it would be wise to program all the appropriate customer service numbers into your phone. This way you can call customer service immediately if your flight is delayed or canceled (just be prepared to be put on hold, considering the widespread nature of these delays). Also check to see if your airline offers email or text alerts for delays and cancelations.

**UPDATE: 10:01 a.m.** For a visual sense of the delays, check out the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center.

**UPDATE: 10:37 a.m.** Delta sent over a brief statment on the issue: “As a result of this morning’s FAA flight plan system outage, Delta is continuing to experience some delays and cancellations. Operations are slowly returning to normal and we are working with impacted passengers.  Customers should continue to visit for the latest flight information.”

There doesn’t appear to be any notice or information about the delays posted on at the moment, so check your reservation specifically.

**UPDATE: 11:47 a.m.** The New York Times says the problem has been fixed, but the damage, nevertheless, is done, as the resulting backlod sends delays cascading across the Northeast. According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the “failure has created a domino effect of problems throughout the country, starting with the inability of FAA automated [air traffic control] systems at major regional facilities to process flight information, forcing the manual input of information by air traffic personnel. Air traffic controllers are without electronic decision-making tools and cannot keep up with the sheer numbers of flights—resulting in delays.”

The net result?

“It will take many hours for the system to catch up.”

Not a fun day to be flying.

**UPDATE: 12:15 p.m.** AirTran just sent over the following statement: “Passengers holding reservations for travel scheduled for Thursday, November 19, 2009 on AirTran Airways may make changes to their itinerary without penalty. Customers scheduled to fly today may make these changes free of charge as long as travel is completed by midnight, Sunday, November 22, 2009. Flight changes will be honored based on space availability without change fees or fare adjustments.”

The airline says 42 flights have been canceled so far.

Delta is also waiving change fees.

Are you stuck at the airport, or perhaps flying later on today? I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below. Thanks!

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