The Airline Industry’s Problem with Absolutely Ancient IT

The Airline Industry’s Problem with Absolutely Ancient IT

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Writing by Sam Denby and Tristan Purdy
Editing by Alexander Williard
Animation led by Josh Sherrington
Sound by Graham Haerther
Thumbnail by Simon Buckmaster



  1. Juan Mahaganti on February 10, 2023 at 4:19 am

    Now can you do this for SAP and other REP?

  2. Devemia on February 10, 2023 at 4:20 am

    That’s why it is not that great to work as an IT personnel in a highly regulated field (medic, airport, finqnce etc.). A bunch of buecrautic, many audits to be passed. High velocity changes? It’s more like snail velocity movement. Because of these overhead, the higher up just decides to stay on top of that rotten core until a meltdown happens, which forces the change. In the end, it is the consumer who suffers.

  3. Shawn McDonald on February 10, 2023 at 4:22 am

    Ok good video, but most importantly, why did free pretzels go away?

  4. stephanie parker on February 10, 2023 at 4:22 am

    I think anyone who travels during Christmas week is completely bonkers.

  5. John Opalko on February 10, 2023 at 4:23 am

    I finally retired from IT after 40+ years in it. We would beg and plead with management to spend more money on staffing, upgrades, etc., all to no avail. Then, when something finally did break, it was, somehow, all our fault.
    Of course, that never stopped them from spending money to implement the latest fad in software development or whatever and trying to shove it down our throats, thus making it even more difficult to do our jobs.

  6. Judge Dredd on February 10, 2023 at 4:23 am

    Man if only you knew that most class 1 railroads run on ancient DOS systems

  7. Psivewri on February 10, 2023 at 4:25 am

    So many companies still use really outdated data entry software. My partner has to use a program that literally looks straight out of the 80s at work ahaha

  8. Les on February 10, 2023 at 4:25 am

    NDC is a good start but NDC is hardly new, not even by today’s tech standards. By the time it becomes universal(If it even does), the systems that adapted it would be considered Jurassic. NDC becoming a universal standard probably is not going to happen because airlines are limited by the reservation system that they use, even if NDC provides for functionalities, it’s just a messaging standard. What determines if the airline can or cannot provide a functionality is what’s behind the messaging. Add to that, fact of the matter is, every airline has a different interpretation of that NDC "standard", so in many ways TODAY, the messages may look the same but stuff function differently depending on the airline. So we don’t always get the benefits of standardization.

    The reality is interoperability is limited because airlines use different reservation systems and each have their quirks and limitations. Put them together and you get more limitations.

    The real issue is that Airline IT is slow. Slow to develop things, slow to work with each other. And not hard to imagine why since it’s a comfortable market so if it works and it makes money, why takes risky changes right? And then add requirements, limitations and regulations from IATA, different regions and different countries, then you have what we have, non-techy end users using CLI in 2023.

    Who knows, maybe Amadeus and Navitaire can make the difference 😉 maybe all airlines should use Altea or NewSkies, then we get standardization. XD

  9. Roxor128 on February 10, 2023 at 4:25 am

    You could do a very similar video about banks. Ever wondered why your bank only allows an 18-character description on your transactions? It’s because they have to interoperate with every other bank in the world, and some of them are still running software written in the 1960s when 4KB of RAM cost as much as most people paid for their house. They needed to include the field so people looking through their statements would have some idea what a transaction was for, but had to limit it so it wouldn’t take too much memory. I’d wager that 18 characters was all that was left after storing the rest of the required information on a punched card (which held 80 characters in total).

    The Y2K bug was also a result of such memory poverty. Saving two bytes per record by not recording the "19" in "19650417" made a huge difference in how much could be worked on in the very limited RAM of the day and how many spools of magnetic tape were needed to store all the customer data. Of course, when we hit the 1990s and it became apparent that those pieces of software would still be in use when the new century hit, it resulted in a huge rush of formerly complacent companies having to rewrite or replace their old software to keep things working. And we’ll be hitting it again in 2047, when the same kind of issue arises for systems that store the time as the number of seconds since the 1st of January 1970 and are still using a 32-bit number to store it. With the move to 64-bit computing since the mid-2000s, most such systems have already been switched to using a 64-bit value, which will be good for another 292 billion years, but like with Y2K, there are still plenty of holdouts who’ll end up in a mad rush in the 2040s to rewrite or replace their old software.

  10. Neeraj P on February 10, 2023 at 4:25 am

    The ideal time to update software is when the current version has just started running very good.

    Run model versions of updates continuously and update when they start to perform acceptably. When the new version starts working it’s best, start the process of next update.

    If you do it any other way, you ultimately pay much more.

  11. biggyg2 on February 10, 2023 at 4:26 am

    Holy hell. I think I might have to watch this again….

  12. rolitandon on February 10, 2023 at 4:29 am

    Interestingly this video focuses on big US domestic airlines and global ones. Analyst forgets to mention that when a passenger doesn’t want to pay $5-$10 extra for a legacy airline that uses a flight dispatcher to stay in touch with flight’s pilot to ensure safety of the passenger versus some low cost airlines like Spirits or Malaysia airlines of the world, paying to fly an airline that uses state of art tech (investment that needs recovery through higher $5-$10 fares) looks extra cost per trip to passenger. Video started with a focus and then started into a mess of mixing different complex aspects of a domain like airline (10 industries rolled into one) to IATA kind membership fees or OAG fee and data publishing charges etc paid by each participating airline that are recovered in some way or other form from passenger . In the end, nothing is free, cost of everything in a for profit company is passed into the consumer, even Fed mandated safety checks, FAA mandatory B,C checks etc… to how long can a plane wait on the runway if pilot discovers an issue or ATC cannot find a runway to let the plane fly. Analyzing air fares since Wright Brothers, when air fares were $1000 and out of reach of common citizen, fares haven’t increased as much in 80+ years due to increased flying and ‘democratizing’ of airways to offer different flying experience to different consumer market. It’s like when automobiles were owned by only the rich- BMW, Mercedes Benz offered high , elite service at a price, such that these ‘luxury’ automobiles were not affordable by all. These auto manufacturers produced just a few automobiles of high quality, and high price. To make them mass accessible or within affordability of masses, manufacturer has to substitute many parts, maybe compromise on quality given the number and final cost, so more people can buy it. With increased affordability, lower prices, same number of sales people catered to larger crowds compared to when they catered to 50 customers vs 500 now. Then take into account the fixed costs of labor , pension … healthcare too. Times 10 for an airline, and you got a customer that won’t buy a fare of it can find it $5-$10 cheaper on another airline! Many GDS charge $2-5 per transaction, cost is passed to consumer! More reason many airlines like Spirit or Ryan air are not part of many industry associations or GDS- to keep costs low.
    To conclude, airline industry solution is not as simple as this video shows- because each airline works for profit, has to integrate /coordinate with 10 industries (unions) within itself & also across global & industry groups/standards. Welcome to the open skies, it seems simple & open, yet is as complex as what’s not seen mostly by naked eye.

  13. HomerOJSimpson on February 10, 2023 at 4:30 am

    I think it was the NYT podcast The Daily that had an episode on this mess, specifically focused on the system used by SouthWest. If I recall correctly, many employees including middle/upper management had been warning Southwest corporate executives that their system is flawed. What wasn’t mentioned in this Wendover video was how difficult it was for Southwest Airline employees to call in sick or call in to say they can’t make the flight — it all had to be done over the phone with no computer system to handle it. So when some of those flights started to get cancelled and the staff couldn’t make their destination in time to for the next shift, a large number of employees were calling in but the phone lines were flooded so they waited hours to speak to someone. This means Southwest wasn’t able to reschedule the crew and thus they were often short of crew to work a plane. Add in the failures described in the video and you see why Southwest was force to just cancel all flights for a couple days and restart the whole process.

  14. Jacob Peterson on February 10, 2023 at 4:32 am

    I work in IT, please reframe the argument here, this is a software dev and management Issue, the computers were all computing the trash they were given

  15. Brandon Durham on February 10, 2023 at 4:35 am

    As an airline pilot I can say this is all pretty spot on. Always quality content from this channel

  16. Martin on February 10, 2023 at 4:36 am

    This is what happens when North American IT Industry decides to outsource their workforce and save money!

  17. Spoiler Alert on February 10, 2023 at 4:37 am

    I wish the airlines would choose one, pick Cancelled or Canceled?
    The news when showing flight boards show both, depending on airline or airport. ☮️

  18. Airbus 737 on February 10, 2023 at 4:37 am

    It’s about short term vs long term. Short term profits almost never align with consumer interests, but long term profits almost always will. The wrong leaders will go after short term profits, and the right ones will chase long term success. But when there’s a unique issue of interoperability between airlines, it disincentivizes improvement, which seems to be unique to the airlines.

    One should also not forget that the discrepancy between what’s best for shareholders vs customers really only goes for behind the scenes stuff like this. Otherwise, they are still adding new routes, and selling flights for far cheaper than they were prior to deregulation of the airlines.

  19. Orgiano Sexus on February 10, 2023 at 4:37 am

    Combine the inefficient IT with tough revenue management policies/ practices and you have the perfect storm. Sometimes there are solutions that can help the customer in different scenarios, and at the same time bring more profit to the company, but there is a wall of policies or technical difficulties. Result : unhappy customer. That’s why, when customers have a special situation that requires some type of exception to the fare conditions, they will find it very difficult to get help, unless that scenario is already stated in a policy. Airline employees have little marge for creativity and providing exceptional customer service, in my opinion.

  20. Kevin Doyle on February 10, 2023 at 4:39 am

    The only thing sadder than the airlines IT systems are the FAA’s. The official way to get any information to or from them is to mail a letter via USPS and wait for a letter back in 1-3 months. Oh yeah and they don’t have external email.

  21. John Galt Line on February 10, 2023 at 4:40 am

    It depends a lot on the route, but in my experience for any of the major routes they seem to be on average about 60-80% of the price of the major airlines, or similar priced to other budget airlines without screwing you on extra fees. If you are a bit flexible in your travel dates or times, Southwest usually works out as the best option after all fees are taken in to account. While they are not fancy, they are far better than any of the other "budget" airlines.

  22. xScitobor 123 on February 10, 2023 at 4:44 am

    This intro seems to rough, I had to skip back and re listen to it 3 times to understand what mood your trying to put out with it.

  23. Josh on February 10, 2023 at 4:48 am

    When you explained how Google Flights actually looks up GDS queries and fare prices from ATPCO, I’m reminded of a certain video about microservices from Krazam …

  24. TheIngotHouse on February 10, 2023 at 4:48 am

    That is one of the most literal thumbnails on a youtube video that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

  25. Steven Garner on February 10, 2023 at 4:49 am

    It’s a little thing but I very much appreciated that the maps shown in this video show the U.S. as part of North America…with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south, and not as some cut out island in the middle of no where. Although, sometimes it may seem like that.

  26. Zachary Minton on February 10, 2023 at 4:50 am

    The major hotel brands, like Marriott, IHG, and the like, also have decades old CRS (central reservation systems) that power their bookings. In fact, most of them were technically copies of GDS, like Holidex, which was a copy of native Saber. I actually loved creating bookings at a command line! It was 500x faster than wading through screens in a GUI. But nonetheless, hotels can house people and generally manage bookings within their own brands in their portfolio. They don’t leave people stranded. Airlines just care little about how the inconvenience you. It’s like you’re getting the privilege of being on an operating plane that’s on time. Yeah! That’s what I paid for!! And if weather happens, you’re screwed. There needs to be federal legislation that says if you bought a ticket, they have to find a way to get you there – that day. Fire up another plane, find a pilot. I could only wish….(sorry for the rant. This was a great story!!)

  27. on February 10, 2023 at 4:50 am

    If only the government gave billions to airlines…

  28. Wes on February 10, 2023 at 4:51 am

    If they made 4 billion; it’s obvious they over charge for a service…

  29. macbrush on February 10, 2023 at 4:54 am

    AI will solve all these problems in future!

  30. RedRamzor on February 10, 2023 at 4:55 am

    All of this seems like a great job for AI

  31. Adam Smith on February 10, 2023 at 4:55 am

    This all sounds a lot like the problems facing the rail industry, and many others.
    Crucial work needs to be done to improve the industry’s long-term profit and provide resiliency against crises. However, no administrator or CEO or board of directors or what have you wants to be the one that reports that the company produced weak profits this quarter because they were investing in the company’s future, when they can instead report ever-growing revenue and ever-falling expenses, trying to secure themselves a new position at another company while trying to kick the can down the road to the next president & gambling that they won’t be the ones holding the bag when the shit hits the fan.
    It’s almost like the profits-over-all incentive of weakly-regulated market capitalism is no longer serving to improve our society.

  32. Chirag Sanghvi on February 10, 2023 at 4:57 am

    Wow!!!! This is a ridiculously well researched production…simply amazing…!!

  33. Arrow Bishop on February 10, 2023 at 4:58 am

    I love the clip of in line to board an Amtrak Train in Moynihan Train Hall at 18:35

  34. Marconius on February 10, 2023 at 5:02 am

    Based on the title, I assumed this video was about how flight control systems still run on COBOL or something.

  35. friedzombie4 on February 10, 2023 at 5:02 am

    Hey we can avoid a big chunk of these problems if we just build high speed rail between all major cities and ban domestic flight travel like France is doing in a few weeks riiiiiiight?? Also comes with the benefit of delivering you right to the DT core of whatever city you’re visiting saving car rental costs and that environment we should probably attempt to save at some point.

  36. Graham Charles on February 10, 2023 at 5:02 am

    Ancillary, not ancilliary.

  37. ass on February 10, 2023 at 5:03 am

    They should just ask chat gpt

  38. samuel widdowson on February 10, 2023 at 5:04 am

    When i was in airline sales back in 2015. Ryanair and easyJet came onto the gds but only full fare price (luggage and seat selection fee included) and the gds also has sncf and DB trains in the system as part of airfrance and lufthansa code shares)

  39. AlexGolem on February 10, 2023 at 5:07 am

    What’s that? Unregulated Capitalism actively stifles industry innovation by incentivizing companies to sell the bare minimum viable product for the most amount of money that they can get away with?
    You don’t say…?

  40. Archangel M127 on February 10, 2023 at 5:07 am

    As an IT worker, this story hurts my soul. These problems are all SO solveable.

  41. Demonslayer20111 on February 10, 2023 at 5:09 am

    Southwest is not, and never was a budget airline. An alternative airline for sure, and usually cheaper than united and others like them, but not budget

  42. ckhallock88 on February 10, 2023 at 5:09 am

    And then Version 2.0 we had the FAA legacy NOTAM IT system meltdown as well a few weeks later.

  43. Mr. Unacceptable Shadowbanned By Google on February 10, 2023 at 5:09 am

    The world need more than one operating system. Killing W7 killed a lot of perfectly functional machines. What are the airlines going to advance to? We need more operating systems and linux is not it.

  44. Oh Cock on February 10, 2023 at 5:12 am

    I’ll tell you a way to solve the problem

    Build high speed rail

  45. Tom W on February 10, 2023 at 5:15 am

    If I had to guess, the IT staff at SW had warned the business of the risk of their systems, but the business was unwilling to stomach the upfront cost of an upgrade. Theres probably a bunch of IT people at SW who’s concerns were vindicated by this catastrophe

  46. RyuuOujiXS on February 10, 2023 at 5:15 am

    Are you fucking kidding me? You’re blaming the technology for the fact that the USERS refuse to update? Fuck Wendover. Obviously out of touch.

  47. illumancer on February 10, 2023 at 5:16 am

    Rather than reverse tragedy of the commons, isn’t that the prisoner’s dilemma?

  48. admiralcapn on February 10, 2023 at 5:18 am

    We regularly travel the US (have been to 47 states) but ALWAYS by car. Is it because paying for 3 kids’ seats gets pricey fast? Yes. But also because it’s gotten to where a flight of any length is just THE WORST! Hawaii has long been on our short list, but the flights…

  49. RaisingPhoenix on February 10, 2023 at 5:18 am

    I love this video, describing the nightmare that is my job lol.