When Airlines Outgrow Their Computers

Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 10:32 AM


It's not clear what caused American's problems with its computer system.

“American’s not telling anyone exactly one happened,” said Brett Snyder, who runs the blog He says all we know is that the link between American Airlines and its reservation system, known as Sabre, went down. “And so American was unable to do a lot of things that are required of daily business."

Among them: call up its passenger list, print boarding passes, track bags and even help calculate the weight of the plane. When an airline loses touch with its computers, it’s as if it were brain dead. American Airlines CEO Tom Horton went on YouTube yesterday to apologize and explained that it did have “redundancies” -- computer speak for back-ups -- but those failed too.

But that has some airline watchers saying the aging computer system itself is the problem, said Joe Brancatelli, the publisher of, a website for business travelers. “The Saber system that American Airlines uses dates back to the 1950s,” Brancatelli said.

Back then, fewer people flew and most tasks were done by hand. Brancatelli says to grow, the airlines started to computerize. But since then, the number of fliers has exploded, airlines have merged and the business has become incredibly complex.

“Rather than stop and start again, they’re always upgrading, updating changing stuff that was built in the 1950s,” Brancatelli said.

And computer systems really start to show their age when airlines merge. A little more than a year ago, United and Continental teamed up, they merged their computer systems, there was chaos for months. Brancetelli says given what happened yesterday, if the American and US Air merger goes through, we could be in for a replay.


Comments [2]

Ron Grimes

The author of this mis-information, has no clue of what their talking about! Please do some fact finding!

Apr. 22 2013 09:52 AM
Paul from New York

First of all, it's SABRE not SABER. Second, the outage was a problem with the AA network connecting to Sabre. Sabre was up all day and travel agencies and airlines around the world were operating business as usual. AA first blamed Sabre, but quick retracted that. Third, it not an outdated system. Do some research before you post.

Apr. 19 2013 02:29 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.