Sometimes it’s best to print out your boarding card…

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Southwest AirlinesTravellers on Southwest Airlines had a very bad day yesterday, as hundreds of flights were delayed in the United States.

The reason? Apparently a computer glitch caused approximately 500 flights to suffer delays, as staff struggled to check-in customers, and were forced to handwrite boarding passes.

In a statement, Southwest Airlines described how it was having technical issues affecting its website, mobile app and at its call centres and airport check-in systems.

Apparently things were better if you had taken the trouble to print out your boarding pass at home rather than tried to pick one up at the airport check-in desk, but that wouldn’t guarantee that your flight would leave on time…

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Some aggrieved customers, left queuing for hours outside airports in blazing sunshine, documented what was happening on social media:

“Southwest air lining thousands up outside – no water, no food, no sunscreen – pure hell.”

By this morning, Southwest Airlines was saying that it had fixed the problem, but it’s clear that the disruption will continue to be felt by some travellers:

“We have some additional work to do to get bags delivered and some delayed or displaced Customers into open seats today. We have teams working as quickly as possible to accomplish that.”

What can we learn from this?

As travellers, leave technology out of the equation as much as possible. Turn up at the airport in good time, and even if you have a boarding pass on your smartphone try to ensure that you have a printed copy as well, just in case that makes life easier for the staff trying to get you on your plane.

And don’t take your frustration out on the poor people working behind the check-in desk. Chances are that they’re having a nightmare of a day as well, and they’re not the ones who broke the computer system.

Nobody at Southwest Airlines is suggesting that the technical problems were due to an attack by malicious hackers. Instead one has to assume that a common-or-garden standard cock-up occurred instead, just as it probably was when United Airlines grounded thousands of flights worldwide earlier this year, and when the NYSE halted trading.

So, sorry to disappoint any of you who were hoping for a dramatic “Die Hard 4”-style explanation for the airline’s problems – sometimes the solution is much more down-to-earth.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

6 comments on “Sometimes it’s best to print out your boarding card…”

  1. George

    How, exactly, would having a printed boarding pass have helped you get to your destination faster? Rather than a luddite approach, how about the blam rest on the airline that didn't sufficiently prepare for contingencies such as this?

    1. coyote · in reply to George

      Well if everyone printed it out instead of relying on others… they wouldn't be delayed, see? It's basic logic, if you get my meaning.

      Incidentally, blaming those trying to fix it won't help matters. It could make it *much worse*. If I was trying to fix something that wasn't my fault (or even if it was!) and everyone was whining and being nasty over it, I would put less time and energy into it (even if no one noticed it, which is highly likely) if not outright undermine the process (which is most likely and again they would most likely not notice). Call that as it is but that's how I deal with people who accuse me of doing something (without trying to help or make things better where they can, especially) – I make sure they have a legit reason to complain (since they so desperately need to), and it is their fault (and it is what they wanted anyway so hopefully they are now satisfied – if not they should take the lesson to heart and try to make things better for themselves rather than just whine and blame others).

      I've also placed things low on priority because of how the person was behaving. In other words, as long as it is a queue I will make their request (and only their request) be more like an item in a stack – at the very bottom. I will also take more time getting to their request even when the queue proper is empty. Blaming (and not much else) some people will make matters much worse for you.

      Bottom line is this: it isn't lack of preparedness and anyone claiming otherwise is woefully ignorant and possibly playing the blame game (which relates to the victim mentality). Life isn't fair and things don't always go your way. Deal with it like everyone else does. By the way, blaming someone won't solve the problem. That's not what blaming does, you see. It's completely useless – especially when the entity is trying to solve the problem (which is what you can reasonably expect of them). Either someone will accept responsibility or not – being blamed will not change this fact. This is basic human behaviour.

  2. coyote

    "Southwest air lining thousands up outside – no water, no food, no sunscreen – pure hell."

    If they don't live in a desert they take things for granted and are whining.

  3. coyote

    "So, sorry to disappoint any of you who were hoping for a dramatic "Die Hard 4"-style explanation for the airline's problems – sometimes the solution is much more down-to-earth."

    That was a really good pun (is there such a thing as a bad pun ? I'm not sure but that was still a very good one).

  4. Phil Stephens

    Two things I NEVER leave home without.
    1. Printed boarding passes (or other travel documentation)
    2. Printed address and contact details for my destination, preferably with a map. Google Maps is great for this.

    I learned this lesson when my phone battery went flat on a tram halfway to my destination, the power bank did not charge it (a bad, cable) and all the details of my AirBnB accommodation was on the phone.

    Pulled out my tablet, but it had no network connection, so it was useless. I finished up sitting in a doorway holding the faulty charging cable in just the right position to get it to charge for ten minutes, to finally discover I was 200M from my destination…

    Never again!

  5. RealityBites

    Cant really expect anything else nowadays, when accountants run company's, they all fail constantly.

    There isn't anything in the universe dumber than an accountant.

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