The Comair Mess Revisited

By Deane Barker on December 28, 2004

Airlines’ computer systems questioned: In the wake of the big Comair systems meltdown over the holdays, CNN has an article about why airline’s systems are so rickety. It’s notable for a quote from uber-security expert Bruce Schneier that tells the naked truth of it.

Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert in Mountain View, California, said the issue boils down to cost versus benefit.

Airlines could upgrade existing computers to handle more transactions, install sophisticated backup systems that come on when the primary system fails or buy high-performance software that is used by NASA, nuclear plants and medical facilities to keep critical systems running at all times, Schneier said.

“It’s certainly feasible, but it’s my guess it’s not economic,” Schneier said. “My guess is it is cheaper for the airline to absorb this loss, which doesn’t happen often, than to fix the problem.

Isn’t that the truth? Absorb the damage, move on, and wait for it to happen again. Nice. Who gets to miss Christmas next year?



  1. The airlines must figure they don’t have much to lose with occasional bad publicity because have such a bad reputation to begin with. I guess a holiday season without problems would be more newsworthy!

  2. Hey if it costs them less to do that and that’s a way to keep the prices in the market for airfares low, then I doubt people are going to complain. It’s all about balances afterall. If airlines start implementing such back-ups at significant cost and airfares have to rise correspondingly then I think people would be more likely to gamble. Especially if this kind of failure is a relatively rare event.

    Bottom-line: it would take more analysis of the costs and the effort involved in ‘fixing’ the problem before we should consider villifying the industry.

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