A software update briefly grounded more than 350 planes in the United fleet yesterday on the day after the busy Labor Day weekend.
“A software update caused a widespread slowdown in United’s technology systems,” United said in a statement.
The company was quick to downplay any possibility that the issue was a cybersecurity issue.
The issue prevented crews from United and its affiliated airlines from contacting dispatchers.
We are experiencing a systemwide technology issue and are holding all aircraft at their departure airports. Flights that are already airborne are continuing to their destination as planned. We will share more information as it becomes available. Thank you for your patience as we…
— United Airlines (@united) September 5, 2023
This led United to request a ground stop from the Federal Aviation Administration. Planes already in flight were not affected.
The issue affected roughly 13% of the planned schedule for the day and by the end of the day, only 7 United flights had been cancelled.
This glitch follows several technology-related issues that the airline industry has faced over the past few years including a major days-long outage for Southwest Airlines last December.
That outage was initially blamed on bad weather but in reality, was exacerbated by an aging scheduling system which resulted in over 5000 canceled flights around the Christmas holiday season causing huge snarls to travelers.
Aging technology systems have become a common theme with cost-conscious airlines being unwilling or unable to update systems.
This has led Congress to make these changes to the national aviation network a priority for the FAA in the coming year and make even small outages, like the one experienced by United yesterday, more relevant in an already tense environment.