The other day, I tried to book a flight on Delta, using the airline’s website, since using the telephone costs more and usually takes longer. I got to the end and clicked on the “purchase” icon/button. Two miniature airplanes circled, with the word “loading” appearing, only to be replaced by a box stating that there had been a “booking error” and that I needed to start from the beginning and try again. I did. I got the same result.

So I figured that the website had a glitch and waited several hours. When I tried again, I got the same error box. I tried two hours later, with identical results. Then I attempted to call Delta, only to get a message that my call did not go through. That happened twice. I tired once more, another hour later, with the same results. Another hour later [I tend to be bull-headedly persistent], I then managed to get through to Delta after a fifteen minute hold. While the Delta representative was very helpful, it took her three attempts and some creative programming to get my reservation and ticket, and she indicated that she would be filing a report on the system malfunctions. She was not much happier than I was about the system.

As long-time readers of this blog may recall, this is not the first time Delta’s website has malfunctioned. The last time, I could at least reach real people quickly. This time, either too many people were trying to do the same thing, temporarily overloading the circuitry, fiber-optic lines… or whatever… or Delta now has fewer real bodies staffing the lines.

Delta is one of the largest air carriers in the world… but they apparently don’t have a real back-up system for internet reservations and tickets, in all probability because the suits at the top or the accountants advising them have decided that the cost of such a back-up would cut profits, or, if factored into ticket prices, would render Delta less competitive. Some of that is understandable, especially given the amount of information a passenger has to provide in order to get a ticket, and woe betide you if you don’t use the exact name on your government-issued I.D.

All of this brings up a question larger than merely attempting to acquire airline reservations and electronic tickets. Just how long will it be before the United States – or perhaps the entire world – is so electronically linked and co-dependent that we risk losing our entire civilization because of a cascade of failures that cannot be countered fast enough to stop the collapse?

We have a fragile national power grid, an interstate highway system falling apart faster than we’re replacing and repairing it; water and sewer systems that need massive repairs and upgrades; and a communications system that is woefully vulnerable to power outages, hacking and physical sabotage [a single backhoe in the wrong place last year knocked out all internet to southern Utah for well over twenty-four hours]. We have military aircraft that often require tens of hours of maintenance for each hour flown. We also have a government that is more interested in cutting taxes and arguing over social mores than in addressing any of these problems, and a corporate community dominated by an obsession over profits, despite the fact that they’re essentially at an all-time high.

How about a government and a corporate structure that address some of the real problems?

5 thoughts on “Failures”

  1. Plovdiv says:

    Here, Here. It’s the same in the UK as well, though perhaps not to quite the same extent.

  2. Bob Vowell says:

    In the future we won’t need roads because we will have flying cars. Knowing this, the government has defunded road maintenance in favor sexier budget sinkholes.

  3. Jeff says:

    and the rail system… the bottle neck in Chicago which would require a huge government/private effort to fix, could save billions, I’ve read. And lets not forget passenger rail service.

  4. R. Hamilton. says:

    If we spent more wisely and honestly no more than we spend now, surely we could get better results. Nor is it necessarily government spending (although government regulation might be a factor); the electrical grid could be made much more robust (at least against certain risks) at a rather modest cost, as I understand it.

    A simple requirement that industrial control devices must either be on an isolated network (not Internet-connected), or under current software maintenance, would be a nontrivial cost; but phased in over time in some sort of priority order, would not be that much. That’s mostly a private cost, too.

  5. Josh Camden says:

    I AGREE that we need a government/corporate structure that addresses those issues, but “How” is always the question that comes up. As far as politicians spending more time talking about problems, then actual doing anything about them. I refer to “Economics” and point to the system that’s in place pushing them to behave that way.

    You know more than we about governments and their inner workings. I was reading Brave New World Revisited, and was reminded that Democracies have the potential to remain “Democracies” in name while becoming Oligarchies in practice. Which may explain some of those Government/Corporation issues.

    I usually go for the Simplest solution, as they are easier to implement and potentially easier to convince others of.

    My belief is that Politicians need to be held accountable for the promises they tout during elections. In this way, What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get.

    The Speech or Debate Clause offers a type of immunity, which is great in Theory, but too frequently abused.

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