Air traffic computers in different parts of the country could not communicate or automatically transfer flight plans as planes moved across the sky. Airline employees had to manually input the flight plans, which slowed down the system dramatically and led to the delays.
Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, the nation's busiest, was affected, as were other East Coast airports. That led to a domino effect that reached Chicago. Only minor delays were reported at Midway and O'Hare airports.
"I can only look at this station here," said Bernardo Dunbar, AirTran Airways. "We're not experience any delays for more than 10-15 minutes."
System wide, AirTran had to cancel nearly two dozen flights.
Fifteenth months ago, a computer software malfunction delayed hundreds of flights. That, along with today's glitch led New York Senator Charles Schumer to call the aviation system "in shambles."
"If we don't deliver the resources, manpower, and technology the FAA needs to upgrade the system, these technical glitches that cause cascading delays and chaos across the country are going to become a very regular occurrence," said Senator Schumer.
Frustrated air travelers seem to agree.
"It just makes you wonder what's going on. How come they, in this day and age, why can't they be done, handled better," said Mark Jackson, whose flight was canceled.
It took about 5 hours to identify and then repair the problem. The FAA stresses safety was not an issue because all the flights that did get into the air were tracked by radar.