Thousands of Air India passengers had a harrowing time at airports across the world on Saturday as its 155 flights were delayed due to the shutdown of its check-in software for more than five hours due to a technical snag.
The national carrier's chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani said that the passenger service system software, which looks after check-in, baggage and reservation, did not work from 3.30 am to 8.45 am on Saturday.
During this time period, thousands of Air India passengers were stranded at airports globally as the airline staff was unable to issue a boarding pass to them.
Air India's PSS is owned and managed by Atlanta-based SITA company.
Lohani said that "till 10 am total 85 flights were delayed" because of PSS shutdown. "Because of the 85 flights that have been delayed, a ripple effect will take place throughout the day," he said, adding that a "few flights will also be cancelled because of this delay".
Later in the day, the airline's spokesperson clarified that a total of 155 flights would be delayed for an average duration of two hours till 8.30 pm.
The average number of flights that Air India group, which also includes subsidiaries Alliance Air and Air India Express, flies daily is around 674.
It is mostly the domestic flights that have been affected the most due to the software shutdown, Lohani clarified.
"International departures will not be facing much problems... There will be delay in one or two international flights. One Delhi-Shanghai flight is getting delayed by about 1.5 hours. The flights that are departing for Europe are largely running on time," he said.
About affected passengers, the CMD said that the airline is trying its best to inform them through social media and its call centre. "But as the magnitude is so big, it is possible that our call centre is not able to handle the volume," he said.
The passengers who will miss their flights will be given hotel accommodations or they will be rescheduled in a different flight of Air India or of an another airline, he said.
Lohani said that SITA is currently looking into what caused the shutdown. "They are checking if it was because of virus or for any other reason. They are still searching for the root cause," he said.
No other Indian airline apart from Air India uses SITA's PSS software. When asked if SITA would be compensating the airline for disruption in its operations, the CMD replied that "we will have to take a look into it".
SITA regretted the inconvenience caused and said it had experienced a complex system issue during server maintenance early morning which resulted in operational disruption to flights.
"We have now fully restored services at all airports where Air India were affected. Our priority remains, as always, to ensure a stable system where customers can conduct business efficiently and effectively, and we are undertaking a full investigation to understand the root cause and prevent a recurrence," SITA said in a statement.
Many passengers vented their ire on social media on Saturday morning. A Dr Sonal Saxena tweeted at 7.20 am, "Utter chaos. Air India systems not working at Delhi since 3 am. All flights grounded and delayed. No checkins and boarding."
When asked why passengers were not informed about flight delays through SMS or social media during the shutdown, the Air India CMD said, "Whenever any other system does not function properly, we use PSS to get contact information of passengers and then contact them. But when our PSS itself has stopped working, there is no way we can inform them."
A similar incident took place on June 23 last year when a technical glitch in the airline's check-in software delayed 25 of its flights across India.
The airline had tweeted on June 23, "Due to unexpected network connectivity issues at SITA #Atlanta #Datacenter , which had a #worldwide impact, 25 flights were delayed from 1210 hrs to 1510 hrs on #Airindia network. Operations are normal now (sic)."