On Monday, Delta Air Lines experienced a power outage that impacted computer systems and operations worldwide. The outage affected the company’s check-in systems, airport screens, website, and mobile app. Operations were down for 6 hours, resulting in thousands of cancelled flights over the next few days and even more flights delayed. Although they were able to fix the issue and get systems back online, the effects could be seen throughout the entire week, stranding passengers and causing those flying Delta to sleep in airports and miss business meetings, vacations, hotel bookings, and more while waiting on new or delayed flights.

In response to automated systems being down, Delta enacted their backup plan, which was to do everything manually. This process caused long lines and unavailable customer service representatives, ultimately resulting in extremely frustrated customers. As seen in this and other incidences within this industry and others, even brief system outages can result in operational and reputational damages, with the impact lasting for days. 4 Important lessons can be learned from this incident:

1. It Can Happen to Anyone

Computer outages can happen to any size company, at any time. The fact that a single-point of power failure was able to take down Delta’s entire system worldwide shows major vulnerabilities within its technology. Modern businesses have become incredibly reliant on technology to facilitate day-to-day operations and the only way to ensure these systems don’t experience any downtime is to constantly test them for vulnerabilities through risk assessments, vulnerability testing and, penetration testing. Your company should also conduct a business impact analysis to evaluate how a business disruption could affect operations so an effective strategy can be created and implemented. Business continuity plans, disaster recovery plans, and cybersecurity plans should all be created, tested, and trained on to ensure your business can recover in a timely and cost-effective fashion.

2. Reputations Can Easily Be Impacted

Delta prides itself on being the leading U.S. air line in reliability among its customers. The company even went so far as to create a campaign claiming they were “cancelling cancellations”.  With a pristine reputation like that, customers grow to expect a certain standard. When that standard isn’t met, it is inevitable that the company’s reputation will be affected. Even with Delta issuing refunds and vouchers as well as waiving fees for changing flights, customers were not happy with the way the company handled the situation.

Long lines, nights spent sleeping in airports, lack of initial communication from Delta, and the frustration of not being able to get where they needed to go prompted customers to take to the internet and quickly made #Delta a trending topic. Delta CEO Ed Bastian issued a public apology video on Tuesday, taking full responsibility for the issues following the system outage. No matter how exceptional your company’s reputation might be, customers are not always understanding when faced with being inconvenienced. Communication is key during an incident that affects your customers.

3. Cost of Downtime

Although the exact number has not been released, aviation experts believe the power outage and subsequent problems will cost Delta tens of millions of dollars. Since airline companies are performing at maximum capacity year-round, there is not much room to make up for lost revenue. Delta has incurred monetary costs such as compensating passengers for their inconveniences, addressing the actual system issue, increasing the number of staff to service the demand, continuous compensation for flight crews who are waiting at airports for flights to be rescheduled, and more.

The cost of navigating a business disruption will vary between industries, but some costs are inevitable. Assessing what costs your business could incur during an incident is necessary for plan creation. If you don’t know what is at stake, it is nearly impossible to understand what assets need to be protected.

4. Importance of Having and Testing Backup Plans

When systems failed to operate during those six hours on Monday, Delta had to quickly enact their back-up plans while waiting on the problem to be fixed. In this case, the plan was to do everything manually, which included manual check-ins and handwriting boarding passes for passengers. The industry has become so reliant on automated systems that people have forgotten how to go into manual mode. Delta also ran into a staffing issue, mainly because pilots weren’t at the correct airports and due to regulations, could not work more than a certain number of hours. The amount of customers needing to change flights after cancellations and who needed assistance from customer service representatives was so high that employees were stretched thin and there were not enough to service the demand.

Having a back-up plan in the event of a system failure is essential, especially if your company relies heavily on its technology like many do. Aside from having a plan, these plans must be trained on and tested. Training of these plans should be a part of your new employee onboarding process. In slow business months, test these plans and have employees actually implement them. This will ensure that when the time comes, employees will be comfortable with the back-up plan and operations continue to run smoothly.

As the week goes on, Delta’s operations are finally starting to improve and flights are beginning to run on schedule. This incident has shown us no business, no matter how big or small, is immune from suffering consequences following a system disruption. Preparation is the key to a swift recovery and to minimize the effects the incident will have on your business’ finances, operations, and reputation.

To learn how Preparis can help with all phases of managing an incident, from preparation to recovery, click here.

Implementation Specialist