Finding cheap airfare can be a challenge, but, due to an apparent software error in a United Airlines Web application, bargain tickets were in abundance for a brief period on September 12. The company’s website mistakenly offered certain tickets for free other than the mandatory $5 9/11 security fee, while other fares were as low as $5 or $10. The airline was forced to briefly shut down its reservation system, but it has determined that it will honor the mistaken fares.
According to United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy, the $0 fares were only available on the company’s website for “a couple hours,” and other booking channels such as travel agencies did not have access to the prices. The error was not due to a problem with the company’s reservation system, McCarthy said. She did not give further details on the glitch. However, United.com did shut down its flight search and booking functions for a brief period to correct the error.
A costly deal?
Many tickets cost $5 or $10 total, suggesting that they only accounted for the 9/11 security fee of $2.50 per leg, Bloomberg reported. Robert Stokas, a Chicago-area attorney, told the publication that he was able to buy six tickets from Chicago to Los Angeles for a total of $60. On Flyertalk, an airline customer forum on which news of the low fares was quickly posted, users reported finding fares as low as $10 between Washington, D.C. and Hawaii, according to Forbes. Soon, reports of the deals spread to Twitter. After taking a day to review the situation, United stated that it would honor the fares, although it declined to share how many customers were affected.
Honoring the fares will cost United upfront, although the potential costs of litigation and bad press had it revoked them might have been greater, Stokas told Bloomberg. This is the fourth public computer malfunction United has dealt with since March 2012. Given the substantial costs up front of such errors and potential reputational damage, preventing software errors that affect airline operations such as booking is essential. Companies can use tools such as static analysis software to catch errors and avoid flaws that might lead to lost revenue or other problems.
Software news brought to you by Klocwork Inc., dedicated to helping software developers create better code with every keystroke.