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United Airlines computers back up after network outage

Charles Papanek waits for his flight (scheduled for later evening) United Airlines check-areO'Hare Airport Tuesday August 28 2012 Chicago. |

Charles Papanek waits for his flight (scheduled for later in the evening) at the United Airlines check-in area at O'Hare Airport Tuesday, August 28, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 30, 2012 6:20AM

Another major computer glitch hit United Airlines reservation system and website Tuesday afternoon, grounding planes for more than two hours and causing long lines and delayed flights.

The glitch was another in a long string of technology problems that began when it merged computer systems with Continental’s in March.

United said its IT department is reviewing the cause of the outage, and said it could not comment on whether the integration of the systems caused the problem.

United acknowledged at least 200 flights were delayed. Its passenger reservation system and website stopped working for about two-and-a-half hours on Tuesday afternoon, although the outage didn’t affect planes in flight.

The problem was severe enough that the airline asked the Federal Aviation Administration to issue “ground-stops” to prevent flights from taking off to some of its hub airports, including San Francisco, Newark and Houston. The FAA lifted the ground-stops at 4:30 p.m. so that planes could take off.

Angry and dismayed passengers took to Twitter to gripe. Some posted photos of long lines stacking up at airports across the country. Some passengers said boarding passes were being hand-written by United personnel.

Melda Rachman, stuck at O’Hare for an international flight, complained that no one at United could give her a straight answer about refunds.

“It’s so ridiculous 2 hear a @United_Airlines worker not knowing whether a ticket can be refunded or no,” she wrote.

Charles Papanek, 20, a Near North Side resident, was in O’Hare’s Terminal 1 when the computers went down.

“It was kind of interesting sitting through the whole chaos,” said Papanek, traveling to London. “First I tried the (automated) kiosk, and that was down. Then I tried the I-phone app, and that was down. ... But at least United was trying. They were manually writing boarding passes and taking baggage away. It was very slow.”

Papanek said the area near the ticketing gates was, for a time, jam-packed with “very angry” travelers.

Papanek was more of an observer, than an anxious participant in the chaos. His flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until about 9 p.m.

United said it will not charge the usual change fees for passengers on affected flights who want to cancel or rebook their tickets. It apologized for the disruption.

Simon Duvall spent two hours sitting on his flight waiting for the computer problems to be resolved. People were calm but not happy, he said.

“We’re on a plane, on the tarmac in Las Vegas in the middle of August. It’s warm. It’s uncomfortable. It’s cramped,” he said.

The airline said in a statement released about 5:15 p.m. that the outage had been resolved. It began about 2 p.m.

The airline said it is issuing a waiver policy permitting customers on affected flights to cancel or rebook their itineraries without penalty.

“United apologizes for the disruption caused to travelers at affected airports and is reaccommodating customers as quickyly as possible,” the statement said.

Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride said she was notified of the computer “glitch” around 3 p.m.

Jessica Drennon, 25, lives in Washington D.C., and was in Chicago on business. Drennon said it took almost two hours to check in Tuesday afternoon.

“There were a few of the United people with megaphones trying to calm people down,” said Drennon, who was scheduled to fly out about 9 p.m. Tuesday. “There were some very upset, frustrated people. There were a few elderly folks who couldn’t sit down, and they were getting really tired.”

Drennon said she’s “a little frustrated” with United — given the fact that the airline bumped her off her in-bound flight a few days ago for “weather reasons.”

“But I imagine I’ll continue to fly with them because my company pays the bill,” Drennon said.

United Continental Holdings Inc. has been struggling with computer issues off and on since March, when it switched to using Continental’s system for tracking passenger information. The two airlines merged in 2010.

In March, passengers complained of waiting to talk to ticket agents as United struggled for several days to fix the problems.

United experienced a similar network problem in June 2011. The five-hour glitch left thousands of travelers stranded. Long lines of passengers formed at airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago.

United said its flight departures, airport processing and reservation system, including its website were affected by the outage last year.

Contributing: AP, Gannett Newswires

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