United hit by "network outage," widespread delays

A United Airlines customer service representative makes a board call March 28, 2007, at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. (Credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - United Airlines (UAL) was working Tuesday to get its flights running on-time again after major computer problems caused delays and cancellations.

United blamed the problems on a "temporary network outage" that began after 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday, CNET reported. Some of the airline's key systems were down for more than two hours. And its website was offline.

The airline acknowledged at least 200 delayed flights. Passengers in several United hubs reported very long lines at ticket counters. During the outage it stopped sending planes to its hubs in Newark, N.J., and San Francisco. It said it solved the technology issues by Tuesday evening, though the precise cause wasn't known.

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The glitch was another in a long string of technology problems that began when the company merged its computer systems with Continental's in March. United says 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.

Airlines rely on software to know who is filling the seats on its planes, and how many empty seats are available. Those computer systems make it possible to print boarding passes, too.

Alex Belo was waiting at Newark to get on a flight to Mexico City. He considered himself lucky to be behind only 100 or so people waiting to check a bag - because there were another 300 to 400 behind him.

"The line is not moving, or very slowly moving. And they're giving priority only to first class," he said.

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.

Rich Pearson, head of marketing at professional freelance site Elance, was stuck in Houston on his way to present at a jobs seminar at the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla.

Planes were lined up on the tarmac. "It's almost like horseback riding when they are all nose-to-butt," Pearson said. "It's like we've gone back 50 years."

"People are relatively calm," he added. "The customer service area was initially flooded. But they can't really do anything."

The outage reportedly didn't affect planes in flight.