A computer glitch at the Federal Aviation Administration delayed airline traffic across much of the nation early Wednesday, and the agency said it was investigating what caused the issue as flights resumed.
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The FAA instituted a nationwide pause on departures, known as a ground stop, for about 90 minutes Wednesday morning, but that order had been lifted by 9 a.M. ET.
Just before 8:30 p.M. ET, more than 10,000 flights within, into, or out of the U.S. Were delayed according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware, and more than 1,300 flights in the country were canceled. With 19,621 domestic flights scheduled on Monday, according to Cirium data, those numbers have been rising as airlines recover their operations.
On Wednesday afternoon, NAV Canada, the country’s air traffic control organization, posted a tweet saying its NOTAM system was experiencing technical issues as well, but added that the problem was not resulting in flight delays so far.
Flight delayed or canceled?:What you need to know and what airlines owe travelers.
My flight was canceled but I got most of my costs covered (after 3 months).
Airlines for America, the trade group that represents major U.S. Airlines, urged travelers to check with their carriers throughout the day, saying “travelers should download their airline’s app, visit the carrier’s website and ensure their contact information is accurate on travel records.”.
The FAA said it was working to fully restore the affected Notice to Air Mission (NOTAM) system, which provides pilots with safety information for the nation’s airports. On Wednesday night, the FAA said its preliminary findings traced the root cause of the outage to a “damaged database file.”.
“The FAA is working diligently to further pinpoint the causes of this issue and take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again,” the agency said.
Contributing: John Bacon, USA TODAY.
Passengers face delays, cancellations: ‘I’m frustrated, but I smell like passion fruit’
The issues disrupted travel plans across the country.
When Nikkee Porcaro first heard her flight had been delayed Wednesday, she felt a sense of dread. On her way to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, she received a text that her Southwest Airlines flight to Tampa, Florida, was delayed by 40 minutes.
“But I wasn’t upset about the 40 (minutes),” she told USA TODAY. “I knew it was a harbinger of things to come.”.
She was right.
The 7:40 a.M. Flight was delayed several more times, before finally taking off shortly after noon, forcing the 37-year-old to miss the beginning of New York Yankees Fantasy Camp.
Porcaro killed time by doing some shopping in the terminal, buying essential oils at the Body Shop. “I walked out with four items I didn’t need, but I’m very happy with, and now I’m frustrated, but I smell like passion fruit,” she said.
She eventually made it to Tampa and said she does not blame Southwest for the delay, but the experience has raised concerns about her return trip later this month.
“If this can happen on January 11, who says it can’t happen on January 22?” She pondered.
Ahmed Abdelghany, associate dean for research at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s David B. O’Maley College of Business told USA TODAY that passengers should expect headaches as airlines recover their operations through the day.
“Just be patient and get updates from the airline websites,” he said. “We will see that the impact is going to propagate through the day.”.
— Nathan Diller, USA TODAY.
Did the FAA shut down flights?
Not exactly. The NOTAM system provides pilots with crucial safety information for every flight, and the FAA temporarily grounded new departures while it addresses the outage.
It’s the first time departures have been halted nationwide since 9/11.
“This is rare… The fact that they had to initiate a ground stop across the United States, that hasn’t happened since September 11th, 2001. So you get an idea of the magnitude of this,” Mike McCormick, assistant professor in applied aviation sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told reporters.
For now, most airlines seem to expect to run more or less their full schedules for the day, though many flights are likely to be delayed once departures are allowed again.
Washington weighs in
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed early Wednesday that President Joe Biden had been briefed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the situation.
“There is no evidence of a cyberattack at this point, but the President directed DOT to conduct a full investigation into the causes. The FAA will provide regular updates,” Jean-Pierre said on Twitter.
Buttigieg tweeted that the FAA had concluded that the safety system impacted by the outage overnight was completely restored, and said he had “directed an after-action process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.”.
Nevertheless, with the FAA reauthorization coming up, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said in a statement that the committee “will be looking into what caused this outage and how redundancy plays a role in preventing future outages.”.
— Josh Rivera, USA TODAY.
What you’re entitled to if your flight is canceled or delayed
If your flight is canceled, the Department of Transportation requires airlines to refund your ticket if you choose not to rebook your travel, even if you bought a nonrefundable fare. In the event of a delay, policies vary by airline, but you may be entitled to compensation based on the length of your wait and other factors.
Check out USA TODAY’S summary of what you’re owed.
What is the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system?
A Notice to Air Missions provides pilots and other flight personnel with real-time, safety information concerning flight operations and airports.
NOTAM lists potential hazards and conditions that can impact flights – from runway construction or possible icing to a change in an aeronautical facility or flight service.
Pilots are required to consult NOTAMs before starting every flight.
The FAA notes that a NOTAM “states the abnormal status of a component of the National Airspace System (NAS) – not the normal status.” The federal agency adds that NOTAMs are “not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means.”.
What is the NOTAM system? The FAA outage causing flight delays across the US, explained.
“It’s a safety issue,” Abdelghan said. “God forbid if the pilots are not updated with abnormal conditions it might lead to some serious problems like accidents or something like that.”.
The NOTAM system was telephone-based in the past, with pilots calling flight service stations for the information, but it has now moved online.
— Wyatte Grantham-Philips, USA TODAY. The Associated Press.