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Q&A: Delta CEO on outage, efforts to 'win back' passengers

NEW YORK, N.Y. – It’s been a rough week for Delta Air Lines.

A computer outage Monday morning grounded planes around the world. Problems lingered through Wednesday, and the Atlanta-based airline has cancelled more than 2,100 flights so far this week. Thousands of other flights were delayed.

Ed Bastian, who took over as CEO in May, spoke with The Associated Press Wednesday about the system meltdown, the airline’s spending on new technology and plans to keep passengers loyal to Delta.

Below are the highlights, edited for length and clarity.

Q: Can you explain in simple terms what happened?

A: At about 2:30 Monday morning we lost power to our core data centre. The reason we lost it was that we had a power control module that failed. That caused a loss of the transformer that was providing the core power to the data centre. We have redundant systems in place to take into account power failures. That’s not a new concept. Unfortunately, when the system tripped over to the B source, we did not have certain servers wired to protect against the power outage. As a result of that, it caused the entire system to come down. We don’t have the answers as to why some of those servers were not wired to the A source. We will analyze the root cause.

Q: You and other Delta executives have been touting the airline’s impressive record of days without cancellations. Did that set a false expectation of service for passengers that compounded their disappointment this week?

A: It certainly disappointed us as well as our passengers. It does not reflect the quality of service Delta provides. Through the first two days of this outage — and we’re largely back to normal this afternoon — we have cancelled on the mainline close to five times the number of flights that we have cancelled year-to-date. In the long-run, our customers are going to look at who we are and what we provide. While this has been an unfortunate week — and it’s been a week we’ve been very sorry about, we’ve learned a lot about — I see no continuing effect in terms of the quality and reliability of the product we’ll be putting forth in the future.

Q: Has there been any short-term impact on bookings?

A: It’s not clear. I think the period of time is really too short to determine that.

Q: Do you expect any long-term impact?

A: I hope not. Clearly, we have disappointed customers. And I’m sure there are customers that decided in the short-term to book away from us. I don’t know the numbers. But we are determined to win those customers back.

Q: You posted an apology video Tuesday saying this isn’t Delta and the quality of service that passengers expect. In that three-minute video you said that you were “sorry” four separate times. What types of changes are you making as a result of this and could it ever happen again?

A: We’re going to do everything we can to make certain it does not ever happen again. We made a significant investment in our technology infrastructure over the last several years. Candidly, in addition to the disruption this has caused to our people and our customers that to me is the thing I am most disappointed about. We’re going to spend this year over $150 million in technology infrastructure and upgrades alone. We have to analyze how this could happen given the size of the investment we’re making.

Q: What do you say to fliers who are hesitant to book new flights on Delta?

A: My message is that we’re sorry that this happened and we are known to be a high-quality, highly reliable airline with great people. The technology outage was an incident. It’s not who we are.

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Follow Scott Mayerowitz at twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-mayerowitz