Planes are back in the air after the FAA grounded all domestic flights for about 90 minutes this morning. The agency says a system that sends safety information to pilots failed. While it’s unclear what caused the problem, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg says there’s no evidence of a cyberattack. Upwards of 7,000 flights were delayed, marking another difficult day for travelers. The incident comes after tens of thousands of passengers were stranded over the holidays, first because of weather, then due to a major meltdown on Southwest Airlines.
“By Thursday, by the long weekend, things will be relatively back to normal,” says Brian Sumers, founder of the Airline Observer. “But you can't take solace in that. If you're flying today, it's going to be a mess all day at the airports,”
He points out that while people should feel confident in the FAA’s safety mechanisms, the federal government is nearly as bad at tech as airlines themselves.
“Last year … the FAA and Secretary Buttigieg blasted airlines for not getting the job done for their passengers, for not investing in infrastructure. … The airline people say that the FAA has been underfunded for years … that the FAA has not invested enough in both technology and people,” he explains. “So you have certain situations where if one or two people call out sick at an FAA building, then flights are going to be delayed or canceled that day.”
And while Southwest recently canceled some 17,000 flights, travelers will still board their planes, Sumers predicts.
“We'll get back on a Southwest airplane because it's the cheapest option. We'll get back on a Southwest airplane because we live near Ontario Airport or Long Beach Airport or Burbank, and Southwest is that clear market leader at those places, and we don't want to go through a big airlines hub. We'll get back on Southwest because we're traveling with a family of four, and we're checking six bags, and most of those are going to be free. Southwest … they’re a little bit different than the big three airlines. They're different than the ultra-low-cost carriers. They have a lot of people that like them very much.”