To err is human, but to really screw things up you need a computer

Southwest Air had a bad day yesterday. Some of the most weird and egregious reservation system errors I’ve ever seen.

I had booked flights for Emily and the family to come to Socal using accrued reward miles. We did this back in January. On the same day that we booked their three seats, we changed the flights to a better schedule. SW confirmed the change and we’ve just waited for six months for the travel day.

Yesterday when she checked in SW had moved them back to the original, less desirable flights. I called SW to get it fixed, and after a loooong delay on hold I talked with a nice reservations agent who “fixed things”.

The new reservation message I received had the right flights for the three of them, but the confirmation also listed three other random people (!) attached to the confirmation number. WTF? That’s something I had never seen before.

After another long on-hold period, the reservation agent sent a third confirmation message, this time without the strangers. She couldn’t explain what had happened.

Today, when Emily and family got to the boarding gate, it turns out SW had overbooked that flight by SIX people. I’m pretty sure I know which six people caused the overbooking. Fortunately, the family was able to board and are in route – I suppose SW had to pay some big rewards to get six people to volunteer for other flights.

My theory about all this is that during the recent SW computer problems, some reservation system databases got improperly “restored”. They lost some transaction data and they remapped our reservations to the old, original flights. For a mature OLTP system like Southwest’s, that’s a pretty big error. If I were the CIO I’d be looking into how/why this happened.

And the mapping of random people into an incorrect confirmation number…that’s even worse. Moral of the story – after an airline announces they’ve had computer problems, always check your future reservations to make sure they’re still intact.

Update, several hours later. Yikes! This USAtoday article says that SW just cancelled a boatload of flights this weekend. We were very lucky to get the family en route and on time. Southwest’s scheduling and operations woes continue.