Six lessons learned during an unexpected flight delay and how to cope: The Delta power outage on August 8

Be prepared, be practical, and be positive.

In the wee hours of the morning on August 8, a fire in the Atlanta headquarters of Delta Airlines led to a power outage and caused a global meltdown of their computer systems.  This caused delays and cancellations of more than 2000 flights over the next two days. It also disrupted scheduling and turnover of flight crews, issuing of boarding passes and baggage handling. How a simple power outage could lead to global shut down of an international airline like Delta is a separate discussion: generators and backup systems are meant to avoid just such a scenario.

I was flying Delta from Houston to Philadelphia via Detroit that Monday and I will describe my experience and some lessons learned. This, hopefully may help travelers caught in a similar situation.

I checked in at Houston, IAH on time (11 AM) and headed to my gate. At the next gate, a Delta flight was scheduled to leave for Atlanta and the gate attendant was describing the problem at Atlanta and what they were doing to cope. I listened attentively. I had not received any message via email or text from Delta yet. That was my first inkling that something was seriously wrong. My wife then called me with the breaking news she had seen on CNN. Luckily, my flight from Houston IAH to Detroit was not delayed and we took off.

In Detroit it was a different picture. The electronic boards showed that the flight from Detroit to Philadelphia was delayed. That was expected. I used the time to take a walk around the spacious airport, have a drink and dinner. That later turned out to be a very smart move.

The departure time and gate number continued to change. Finally, a text message came advising passengers of the departure time and gate number. We went there, boarded the plane and waited. After a while, an attendant announced that the flight officer had not arrived and without him we could not take off! We looked at each other and wondered why let us board without the full crew complement! Half an hour later we were told to disembark, explanation: the flight attendants would have to time out soon. We grabbed our luggage, disembarked and stood in line for a coupon and re-bookings. We were all very tired.

I looked at the number of people in line, the narrow, hard airport seats and the lateness of the hour. Would I have to spend a night here? My heart sank. The vast airport was nearly deserted and the eateries were shut. No place for a bite to eat! Just as it seemed it could not get any worse, the same attendant (bless her, she tried very hard to cope with a bad situation not of her making) announced in a loud, cheery voice, “Folks, look who we have here! Our First Officer. We need to board in twenty minutes or we have to time out.” We grabbed our bags and raced on board. “Doors closed, love you guys,” she said. I smiled in relief. We took off.

I managed to stretch out on three empty seats, pillowed my head on a blanket and went to sleep, landed at Philadelphia and drove home. I was thankful, Delta had, overall, managed well.

Flight delays and cancellations are a part of flying these days. One cannot avoid them but here are some tips on how to make them less onerous.

  1. Be prepared and have a positive attitude.
  2. Travel light. Have only carry-on luggage if you can.
  3. Carry some water and food (e.g. granola bars). These may have to last you a while.
  4. Have your meals at the airport when you can. The eateries close at night and Airlines rarely supply food these days.
  5. Carry something warm: a sweater, jacket or blanket, full sleeved shirt and slacks in case you have to spend a night in a chilly airport sleeping on the floor.
  6. Smile, be nice to the agents and they will help you out.

I give kudos to the Delta flight staff, they were very helpful and did their best to get the flight off the ground. One of them told me that they had been sitting around for hours and were just as anxious as the passengers to get to Philadelphia. That was reassuring.

I do wish Delta had let us know earlier via email or text that there was a problem and flights might be delayed or cancelled. It would have allowed me to plan ahead.

Happy flying folks!


This piece was also published as a guest post on Wild Book Company

4 thoughts on “Six lessons learned during an unexpected flight delay and how to cope: The Delta power outage on August 8

  1. Jian

    Dear Ranjan, nice article and perspective from an unlucky experience. You did what Hemingway said: courage is grace under pressure.



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