MIAMI – A system-wide crash seems to be affecting a large number of US airlines’ flight search and reservation sites since this afternoon EST.

The issue harkens back to two years ago, when several major US airlines were hit by a flight check-in system outage.

At the time, American Airlines (AA) confirmed the issue stemmed from the Sabre flight reservation and booking system, used by several major airlines — including WestJet (WS), Alaska Airlines (AS), and JetBlue (B6).

United Airbus A319-100 N875UA – Photo : Simon Gloyn-Cox/Airways

Affected Airline Sites

According to MSN and The Point Guy, AA, United Airlines (UA), and Delta Air Lines (DL) are among those affected by today’s outage, which prevents customers from making reservations or flight searches.

Verification carried out by Airways has shown that AS’ bookings and search is also affected.

Alaska Airlines Airbus A320-200 N364VA – Photo : Phil Wilco/Airways

The ITA MATRIX Flight Software

Confirmation of today’s system crash was shared by Thrifty Traveler editor Kyle Potter via his Twitter account, saying the issue was caused by an outage with Google’s ITA MATRIX’s airfare shopping engine, the backend system a number of US airlines use.

The ITA Matrix is a piece of flight software that powers Google Flights (and other search aggregators, like Kayak and Orbitz). It was created by a group of MIT scientists in 1996, and Google acquired it in 2010.

Back-end Solutions for Airfare Search

Worldwide, there are three major airline Global Distribution Systems (GDS), which are the systems that establish, store, and access tariffs (prices) and reservations. Travelport (Galileo/Apollo/Worldspan), Amadeus, and the aforementioned Sabre. Flight search is the next layer on top of these systems, which attempts to find the best flights and fares within the GDSes.

However, many low-cost airlines, such as Ryanair (FR) and Air Asia (AK), do not participate in these. This is also true for some travel agencies. In addition, many airlines still depend on in-house solutions while others do not publish all of their fares on the PDS, so even the best search engines will skip them.

For example, many of Cathay Pacific’s (CX) offers are only available from CX and only searchable from CX’s own website or ticket office. A US example would be Southwest (WN), which forces all sales through its own system and was therefore not affected by today’s outage. 

Featured image: Delta Air Lines Airbus A220-100 N123DQ – Photo : Saul Hannibal/Airways