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Northwest Expects Normal Flights

March 22, 2000

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) _ Northwest Airlines expected to return to normal operations today after it was forced to cancel or delay hundreds of flights around the world when a utility crew accidentally severed a crucial link in its computer network.

Airline spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert said communications lines were down for about three hours Tuesday afternoon, affecting reservations, baggage information, electronic ticketing and digital links between the airline’s dispatch center and its cockpits.

Passengers aboard planes were not in danger, but Northwest temporarily suspended boarding until the problem was fixed, she said.

About 130 of the airline’s 1,700 daily flights were canceled systemwide, and an undetermined number were delayed for up to several hours as employees resorted to manual back-up procedures.

``If you can’t print a bag tag because you can’t get into the system to get information, it means you hand-write it,″ airline spokeswoman Kathy Peach said.

Major delays were reported in Detroit, where about 30 flights were canceled, Northwest spokesman Doug Killian said. ``Detroit was definitely hard-hit,″ he said.

Another 19 were canceled in Minneapolis, with the remainder scattered around the system. Some delays also were experienced in Memphis, Singapore and Bangkok.

Northwest’s Web site also was temporarily out of service because of the cable cut.

Passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport took the delays in stride and seemed relieved when Northwest said the computers were working again, albeit slowly.

Jack Dunn of Tampa, Fla., said several other travelers waiting in one of Northwest’s WorldClub lounges gave up and checked into local hotels. He stayed and was relieved to hear that the systems were back on.

``We thought we would be here all evening,″ he said.

The problem began just after 2 p.m. CST Tuesday when contractors for McLeod USA, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based telecommunications company, cut through two U S West fiber-optic cables in Eagan that link Northwest’s mainframe computers to airport facilities globally, U S West said. While U S West has a backup arrangement for Northwest in the event of such a failure, it failed because of the extensive cable damage. The lines were reopened at about 5:25 pm. CST.

``It’s a very unfortunate accident, and we’re sorry on behalf of McLeod for whatever problems and confusion it caused for Northwest Airlines and travelers,″ McLeod spokesman Bryce Nemitz said. ``On the other side of coin, it’s just one of those things that does happen when there are as many telephone companies throughout the U.S. building networks as there are.″