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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Will a computer glitch force American Airlines and U.S. Airways into bankruptcy?

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Tuesday, 3 August 2004

[Editor's note: new visitors to our site may not recognize the sarcasm in this column. Mr. Rosenberger trusts American Airlines and U.S. Airways will continue flying.]

Rob Rosenberger IN A PREVIOUS column, I revealed a prediction by Righard Zwienenberg (Norman ASA), who warned "airliners will go bankrupt within three days" if the Internet goes offline for a mere 20 minutes. Incredibly, Zwienenberg pondered "maybe it should happen."

Rig­hard Zwien­en­berg (Nor­man ASA) pre­dic­ted "air­liners will go bank­rupt within three days" if the Inter­net goes off­line for a mere 20 minutes.
On 1 Aug­ust, a com­pu­ter glitch downed two air car­riers for two hours.
Now, I'm not saying you should imme­di­ately dump stock in Amer­i­can Air­lines and U.S. Air­ways...

Well, Zwienenberg can finally test his prediction at the expense of two major U.S. air carriers.

On 1 August, American Airlines and U.S. Airways grounded flights across the nation for at least two hours each due to a computer glitch. According to an Associated Press newswire, "a US Airways spokeswoman, Amy Kudwa, said the airline's flight-operation database malfunctioned. A similar problem affected American's flight plan system, grounding about 150 flights, John Hotard, a spokesman, said... Mr. Hotard said flights for American, based in Fort Worth, most likely would not be on schedule until [the next day]."

A two-hour computer failure equals 120 minutes — six times longer than Zwienenberg's prediction for catastrophe. I fully expect U.S. Airways and American Airlines will file for bankruptcy in the very near future.

"Separately," the AP noted in passing, "some flights were canceled Sunday in Philadelphia, an airline hub, and New York because of thunderstorms." Yeah, yeah, big deal. I've seen this happen many times. In fact I watched my own flight get cancelled in New York City on 14 July. All airlines operating out of the LaGuardia and JFK airports canceled flights due to thunderstorms, and those cancellations snarled air traffic across the country for most of the next day.

BUT — commercial airlines have dealt with weather-related flight delays & cancellations for almost a century. Weather-related flight cancellations are so common that the Associated Press only tends to report them in passing when they write about blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. Airlines even know how to deal with a rare nationwide shutdown of U.S. civilian air traffic, you know.

Sadly, though, major airlines cannot easily recover from computer-related flight delays & cancellations. There's quite a difference between a weather-related cancellation versus a computer-related cancellation. Zwienenberg almost certainly based his prediction on this simple fact, and I for one wouldn't dare to question his prediction abilities.

Now you know why the Associated Press files a newswire every time a computer-related flight cancellation occurs. It's just not the same as a weather-related flight cancellation.

Now, I'm not saying you should immediately dump stock in American Airlines and U.S. Airways. Don't worry: you've probably got another day or two before they declare bankruptcy...