The cabin doors closed, and a moment later the captain’s voice came over the intercom.
He led off with the word, “Folks,” which I always find reassuring, because it means he’s not acting all big and captain-y. He’s like us, just one of a bunch of folks flying from one place to another, brought together by fate and united by the many indignities of air travel. Just because one of us has stripes on his shoulders doesn’t mean he gets to act all mighty and address the passengers as “Those who cannot fly” or “Parasitical ascenders” or “Gravity’s bitches,” which is what I would do if I had mastered flight.
The captain said, “Folks,” and it was nice.
Then the captain followed up his folks with the words you never want to hear on a plane, “I have some bad news.” He continued, “We are going to be delayed indefinitely because we are experiencing a nationwide computer outage.”
That’s right—a nationwide computer outage! My first thoughts: Wall Street? Gone. The power grid? Gone. The nation’s defense satellites? Gone. Cats doin’ cat stuff on the Internet? Gone. That’s what happens when there is a nationwide computer outage. American civilization goes blue-screen-of-death until India comes over and helps turn America back on in Safe Mode.
I turned my phone on and went to United’s Twitter feed and discovered that it was only United’s computers that were down, not the nation’s. The captain was being a bit dramatic. We sat on the plane at the gate for two hours while the captain reassured us every 15 minutes that as soon as United’s IT department got back from Chili’s, they’d get everything worked out.
I later learned from the Associated Press what happened:
“United acknowledged at least 200 delayed flights. Its passenger reservation system and website stopped working for about two-and-a-half hours on Tuesday afternoon, although the precise cause wasn’t known.”
In some airports United gate agents wrote boarding passes out by hand while employees from JAL, Singapore Air and Virgin teased them and asked if Orville Wright would be flying co-pilot today and whether United needed any help manually pushing the propellers into motion on its state-of-the-art planes.
The story continued:
“The glitch was another in a long string of technology problems that began when United merged computer systems with Continental’s in March.”
I flew Continental for years because it had the cheapest flights to my hometown, and I came to like the airline. When United bought Continental, it was like when your divorced mom marries an English professor named Turlough. She’s your mom, and you’re sticking with her because you have to, but you kind of resent the addition of anyone who won’t shut up about the over-reliance of protagonists in narratives and even the over-reliance on narrative structure itself, tah-hmm-yes-ah-mmm, because he WASTES YOUR TIME.
United not only merged with an airline, it also merged with a group of customers accustomed to not having to sit on the tarmac because HQ lost the phone number for The Geek Squad. We’re not used to having our time wasted.
I am writing this while stranded in a Houston airport hotel room where, earlier tonight, I killed a large beetle because it was picking on our dog. I should be at home right now eating my mom’s cavatelli. Instead I am standing at the foot of my wife’s bed, shoe in hand, no shirt, a sock headband around my head, calling out any other beetles that might want to mess with my wife’s delicate sleep patterns.
You did this to me, United.
Photo by David Wilson
You can follow me at @joedonatelli.