April 17, 2013 at 1:24 PM ET
Flight cancellations and delays continued to bedevil American Airlines customers on Wednesday -- a day after a major glitch crippled the carrier's reservation system, leading to the grounding of its fleet for several hours.
"These computer system can get hung up waiting for data. If it never gets it, the system can get overloaded and leads to a shutdown," said Dr. Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software analysis firm.
On Tuesday night, 1,500 American Airlines passengers slept on cots, chairs and the floor at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after 262 flights were canceled, airport spokesperson David Magaña told NBC News. Hotel vouchers were available, water and snacks were distributed, and terminal security presence was increased.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 37 AA flights were canceled. On a normal day, the airline, which runs 1,600 of the airport's 1,900 flights, averages between three and five cancellations, said Magaña.
Social worker Stacy Townes was at DFW Airport for more than 14 hours. "We were thankful for the cots last night due to no more hotel vouchers," she told NBC News. "Frustrated and hopeful for standby today."
Meanwhile, operations were running smoothly at LaGaurdia Airport in New York, where lines at the counter were short and customers were calm. A departure screen showed two rescheduled flights.
At Miami International Airport, 30 American Airlines flights were canceled Wednesday, compared to 222 on Tuesday. Besides passing out cots, the airport also opened up an auditorium for the 300 stranded passengers to stay in overnight. Part of the continuing delays for American, said airport spokesperson Greg Chin, is that flights scheduled to arrive at 10 or 11 p.m. didn't arrive until 2 a.m. But, "the airplanes can move now," he said. "We're getting there."
Tugboat deckhand James Darr said his flight from Jacksonville to Miami was cancelled Tuesday. Wednesday, he said, he was sent on a flight from Jacksonville to Charlotte, then to Miami. “I don’t know why they did that. I guess they’re looking at the fastest connection to get me here.”
“I was in the snags and snarls yesterday,” said Bonnie Ramey, of Atoka, Okla., as she stood in line for the ticket counter with her rolling carry-on in tow. “I had to spend all day in an airport yesterday. And now I get to do it today.”
She said she was supposed to fly to Dallas on Tuesday, and wound up stuck in the Oklahoma City airport for six hours. By the time she got to Miami, her flight to Bolivia was gone.
“Then,” she said, she had to pay for her hotel in Miami herself. “They didn’t have any vouchers left.”
Reservation phone lines are backed up as the airline's passengers across the nation try to reschedule their flights, with customers, including NFL wide receiver Terrel Owens, reporting wait times of over an hour.
On top of the outages, passengers worried about tighter security and increased delays related to Monday's Boston Marathon attacks.
Social media to the rescue
Conference manager Cait O'Donnell's flight from Miami to Boston left the gate early Wednesday and waited for more than 90 minutes before taking off. When she arrived at her destination, her baggage was missing. "Awesome," she tweeted at the airline.
Social media has been an outlet for American Airlines customers during the delays. Consumers stuck in terminals during the outage with nothing to do took to Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustrations.
"The employees for AA are sending me to different gates & then I get there & it's closed! This airport is huge and I am pissed!" tweeted @Tifflonn from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
At times, American showed they could keep their humor during a tense situation. When @McMeerkat2723htweeted, "@AmericanAir computers down for hours? Have you tried turning them off and on again?" the airline replied, "Thanks for your advice. We'll give that cold boot a try. Thanks for your patience and the smile."
"I think American Air's social media crew did as good a job as can be done when they were faced with tens of thousands of grounded fliers," said Jason Clampet, co-founder of the travel news site Skift. "They kept the updates coming on Twitter and Facebook and they responded to customers even when they couldn't provide firm answers."
Over 9,500 tweets hit the @AmericanAir handle on Tuesday which sent out 1,200 of its own, according to social media analytics firm Simply Measured. Over 2,400 of them occurred between 6-7 p.m. E.T, after the reservation system came back online. Of the tweets American's social media team replied to, 45% of users got a response back in under 30 minutes.
"We made every effort to keep our customers updated yesterday during the disruption – at our airports, from our reservations offices and via our social media channels." American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller told NBC News.
Whereas in decades past, an airline would resort to apologizing to passengers by placing ads in major newspapers, Clampet said, "In this case, social media allowed them to play publisher, too, and speak almost instantly to all of their customers."