Virgin airline in check-in outage chaos

Virgin’s Australian airline brand, Virgin Blue, experienced a large system outage over the weekend, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

The problem began at 8am AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time), and lasted for 21 hours until 5am today. The airline said it was caused by a failure on servers hosted by IT supplier Navitaire, that run its reservations and check-in system.

The system, called New Skies, is hosted by Navitaire at a datacentre in Sydney. A hardware failure led to Virgin Blue switching to a slower, manual system.

“At 0800 yesterday the solid state disk server infrastructure, used to host Virgin Blue, failed, resulting in the outage of our guest-facing service technology systems,” it said in a statement.

“We are advised by Navitaire that while they were able to isolate the point of failure to the device in question relatively quickly, an initial decision to seek to repair the device proved less than fruitful and also contributed to the delay in initiating a cutover to a contingency hardware platform.”

Virgin Blue was forced to provide overnight accommodation and food for hundreds of passengers who were stranded overnight, as it delayed and cancelled flights across Australia. Certain Virgin Pacific international flights leaving Australia were also affected. The company has not said how much it spent on this.

Virgin Blue said service level agreements had been breached. “The service agreement Virgin Blue has with Navitaire requires any mission critical system outages to be remedied within a short period of time. This did not happen in this instance.”

It added: “Navitaire has given us an assurance that they are thoroughly investigating all circumstances which led to the hardware device failure and the delay in getting an alternative platform up and running. They have given an undertaking to get a full report to us as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson at Navitaire, a subsidiary of Accenture, had not provided comment at the time of writing.

Navitaire serves a number of other airlines in Australia, including Qantas, Skywest, Strategic Airlines, Alliance Airlines, Cobham and Jetstar, but none of these is understood to have been affected by the problem.

The New Skies system is also used by budget airline Ryanair, which did not experience problems this weekend but was hit two years ago with major booking delays when it launched the system. On that occasion, some observers questioned how much load testing Ryanair had done.

The system has customer relationship management, reporting and payment modules, and is used by a number of other large airlines around the world.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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