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American Airlines says flights resumed, but passengers frustrated, confused

Long lines resulted ticket counters O'Hare airport when American Airlines was experiencing problem with its reservatibooking system Tuesday afternowhich has

Long lines resulted at ticket counters at O'Hare airport when American Airlines was experiencing a problem with its reservation and booking system on Tuesday afternoon which has led to a system-wide grounding of its fleet. The airline Tweeted, “Our reservation & booking tool Sabre is offline. We’re working to resolve as quickly as we can. We apologize for any inconvenience.” | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 18, 2013 6:41AM

Hordes of passengers packed American Airlines’ reservation area at O’Hare Airport Tuesday, frustrated at what the airlines said was a computer outage that shut down the carrier’s reservation system and grounded more than 780 flights nationwide for much of the afternoon.

Some passengers could not help but wonder if something else was going on — something tied to Monday’s Patriot’s Day bombing at the Boston Marathon.

American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan could offer no information on the cause of the computer glitch, but said no “outsiders’’ had infiltrated American’s computer system.

“It is important to note we see no evidence that today’s technical outage is related to the tragic events in Boston,’’ Fagan said Tuesday afternoon.

When Anastasio Politidis, 46, of New York City, saw the mob that awaited him at American and then heard the reservation system was down, he thought, “They are picking on American Airlines. And the fact that it’s ‘American’ Airlines, and not any other airline, crossed my mind.”

Politidis admitted he was “a little worried” that something bigger might be going on, but was relieved to at least be rescheduled on a flight that was leaving only one hour later than anticipated.

In June of 2011, a computer glitch also temporarily stalled United Airline departures and affected its reservation process. On Tuesday, American Airlines gave no indication that its problem was anything other than a typical computer failure, albeit one with far-reaching consequences.

It grounded all flights across the U.S. for most of Tuesday afternoon, blaming a computer outage of its reservation system, which is used for much more than booking flights. Flights resumed at 3:30 p.m. Chicago time, although yellow “cancelled’’ notices still peppered American’s arrival and departure board at O’Hare into the early evening.

Normal service was expected by Wednesday, American officials said.

Fagan said 104 American and American Eagle flights were cancelled at O’Hare Tuesday, and more than 780 were shutdown nationally. More than 750 additional flights were delayed, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.

At airports across the nation, passengers described long lines and frustration at a lack of information from airline employees.

By late afternoon, Alexis Levin, 58, of Phoenix, was tired after waiting in line for two hours at O’Hare, and “trying not to be frustrated or upset because there’s no point.’’

Her flight home was cancelled, and as she waited to be rescheduled, she said she wondered if the shutdown was some kind of enhanced security measure in the wake of Monday’s bombing.

“Seems like it’s a coincidence,’’ Levin said. But she added, “I don’t see anything that confirms or denies that.’’

Levin noted that despite the long lines that snaked slowly through the American waiting area, she did not observe anyone being “really upset, loud or angry.’’

“Maybe yesterday has made us more accepting,’’ Levin said.

Some said American personnel stopped frequently to talk to passengers in line and update them; others said they were getting no update from the airline, adding to their frustration.

“They are not giving us much information. They are just saying ‘Wait in this long line,’ ’’ said Kathleen Beal of Boston, who flew into Chicago Monday before the Boston Marathon bombing to check out colleges for her daughter and was anxious to return home after Monday’s mayhem.

At the self-service kiosk, a printed ticket told Beal “unfortunately, you have missed your flight.’’

“No kidding we missed our flight. There are no flights taking off,’’ Beal said.

She said she tried calling a tollfree American number but was told staff was too busy to help her.

“It sure makes me wish I was on another airline,’’ Beal said.

Christie Lada, 35, of Coral Springs, said she arrived at O’Hare early Tuesday evening with a boarding pass she pre-printed at 8 a.m. only to find a “line out the wazoo” and learn via her own online googling that her flight to Miami had been cancelled.

“Nobody knows anything,’’ Lada said. “I’m mad because no one notified me. Other airlines, they send you an email, a text.’’

To make amends, American offered to book people who needed to travel Tuesday on other airlines and pay for their fare difference. For those willing to delay, the airline offered refunds or waivers from the usual free for changing a reservations.

Contributing: Associated Press

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