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Southwest Airlines cancels 450 more flights, extends fare sale

People wait in the Southwest Airlines check-in line at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix on Thursday. | Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic via AP

Southwest Airlines canceled about 450 more flights Thursday as it struggled to recover from a Wednesday computer outage that knocked the carrier’s website offline and continued to delay flights and cause long lines at Midway Airport and elsewhere around the country.

Southwest said it has fixed the problem, which forced it to cancel 700 of its 3,900 daily flights Wednesday and to delay at least 1,300 others.

The company said it was forced to ground additional Thursday flights as it worked to get its planes and crews back in the right places to operate its normal schedule. Combined, the carrier canceled more than 1,100 flights and delayed hundreds of others since the technical glitch began Wednesday.

Airline executives said a router breakdown set off a chain of failures in critical technology systems on Wednesday, and backup systems didn’t work as expected.

Southwest said that “most systems” recovered and were functioning by Thursday morning. After “a day of recovery,” the airline hoped to be operating normally on Friday, according to Gary Kelly, its chief executive officer.

For hours after the outage started, airline employees had to check in passengers manually and couldn’t take new reservations. The company’s website crashed, which Kelly estimated might have cost Southwest between $5 million and $10 million in ticket sales because customers couldn’t book flights.

“We have significant redundancies built into our mission-critical systems, and those redundancies did not work,” Kelly told reporters on a conference call. “We need to understand why and make sure that that doesn’t happen again.”

Robert Jordan, Southwest’s chief commercial officer, said every customer affected on Wednesday or Thursday would be contacted. A major fare sale scheduled to end Thursday was extended one week because of the outage, according to Jordan.

“Priority one is to take care of our customers, so everyone affected will be hearing from us,” Jordan said on the same call.

The carrier also is letting customers rebook flights through Sunday at no added charge.

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Southwest has an aging technology infrastructure, but Kelly said the airline has been making “significant investments” to upgrade it. It expects to replace the longstanding reservations system next year — at a cumulative cost of $500 million — and replace other key systems over the next three to five years.

There were long lines and crowds Thursday at several airports, including Midway, Sky Harbor in Phoenix and Oklahoma City.

Chief operating officer Mike Van de Ven said when a router failed Wednesday, it slowed the airline’s technology systems so much that other functions weren’t usable. He said router failures aren’t uncommon, but this outage was unusually severe. It took crews about 12 hours to restore most systems to working order.

When the outage hit, Southwest took the unusual step of briefly holding all departing flights at their gates.

With so many flights canceled on Wednesday, Southwest knew that a large number of passengers would try to fly Thursday. To bounce back better, the airline reduced its load, canceling more than 200 flights — 5 percent of its daily schedule — ven before the day’s first flight and warned passengers to expect long lines and to arrive at the airport early.

Southwest suffered a similar outage last October, resulting in about 800 delayed flights. Southwest blamed that breakdown on a faulty software application.

Contributing: AP