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Tech Industry

Two US senators want to know how bad the airline industry's computers really are

After high-profile tech failures at Delta and Southwest in the past month, two senators send a joint letter to 13 airlines asking for details about their technology.

We might soon find out exactly how bad the airline industry's computers really are.


What's going on with the airlines these days?

That's the crux of a letter sent to 13 US-based airline CEOs by Sens. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut and Edward Markey from Massachusetts, asking them to explain why tech outages have begun to plague the industry and what's being done to correct the issue.

"We are concerned with recent reports indicating that airlines' IT systems may be susceptible to faltering because of the way they are designed and have been maintained," the two senators wrote. "Now that four air carriers control approximately 85 percent of domestic capacity, all it takes is one airline to experience an outage and thousands of passengers could be stranded, resulting in missed business meetings, graduations, weddings, funerals, and other prepaid events."

The letter is just the latest twist in ongoing tech dramas for the airline industry, which has been accused of poorly maintaining its computer systems and reluctance to adopt new technology.

Critics say that behavior contributed to major airline disruptions over the summer, forcing wide-scale flight cancellations for Southwest and Delta.

"We appreciate the senators' interest on this critically important area of our business," Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said in a statement, adding that the company has put in "significant" investments into its technology. "We will continue to invest to make sure we have a secure, robust technology infrastructure in place to support our complex business."

Delta, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines acknowledged receiving the letter and said they're currently reviewing it. United Airlines referred requests to its trade association, Airlines for America. The association said member airlines will respond accordingly. It also highlighted technological investments it says member airlines do make.

JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Allegiant Air, Virgin America, Sun Country Airlines and Island Air Hawaii did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

UPDATED at 5:30 pm: To include additional comment from airlines and the trade association.