Here’s what United Airlines says happened today with its computers

All United Airlines flights were grounded for almost two hours early Wednesday due to a computer hardware problem, creating travel headaches for tens of thousands of passengers that stretched into the afternoon.

“We are restoring regular flight operations, but some customers may experience residual delays (Wednesday),” United said in an afternoon statement.

The Federal Aviation Administration said all flights operated by United, the fourth largest U.S. passenger carrier, were grounded starting at about 8 a.m. EDT after the airline experienced a systemwide computer problem. Some travelers were forced to look for alternative flights and connections before the order was lifted 9:47 a.m.

United said 800 flights had been delayed, with four flights canceled on its main carrier and 55 on its regional partners.

“An issue with a (computer) router degraded network connectivity for various applications, causing this morning's operational disruption,” United said in a statement. “We fixed the router issue, which is enabling us to restore normal functions.”

United said it would rebook flights for affected passengers without charge.

Diane Menditto, 66, a retired teacher from Hackensack, New Jersey, on the United Airlines check-in line at Newark Liberty International Airport said she and her sister-in-law were worried about making a connecting flight en route to Calgary, Alberta in Canada.

“The only thing I would wonder is, now that we're here and things are running smoothly, if we'll actually get out on time,” Menditto said.

A separate computer outage affected stock market trading Wednesday morning. The NYSE Group, which includes the New York Stock Exchange, suspended trading in all securities due to technical difficulties. Trading resumed shortly after 3 p.m. EDT.

U.S Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she had not yet been briefed on the two major outages. She told reporters: “This is not an oddity. This is going to continue to happen and we have to begin to deal with it … and we have to deal with it legislatively.”

Aviation industry consultant Robert Mann said technical disruptions have been on the rise since airlines began automating more of their operations and since they switched from private, proprietary communications for flight operations to Internet-based communication, which is cheaper but exposes the carriers to more risks.

Technical disruptions “are nagging problems, but these are not problems that are going to draw the huge capital investment necessary to (approach) 100 percent reliability,” Mann said. “The revenue loss in these cases is relatively modest.”

United flights were also grounded on June 2 due to “automation issues.”

United Continental Holdings Inc shares fell 3 percent to $52.67.

El Al to honor cheap tickets to Israel from glitch

El Al Airlines said it will honor all tickets purchased during a glitch that had thousands of round-trip tickets selling for as low as $330.

The airline also announced Thursday that those who purchased tickets three days earlier at the hugely discounted fare would be given the opportunity to convert their tickets to a direct flight provided by El Al for an additional $75 each way rather than fly with a codeshare partner with a connecting flight in Europe.

“Although a review of this occurence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate El Al passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service,” said Danny Saadon, El Al’s vice president of North America, in a statement released Thursday. “Hopefully we have provided an opportunity to many first timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends.”

A full refund without penalty also will be offered to passengers who wish to cancel their ticket.

The glitch was the result of a third party subcontracted by El Al to post the Israeli airline’s winter promotional fares online. According to El Al, the discounted airfares were the result of the subcontractor failing to add the fuel surcharge to the total price.

In an interview Thursday with JTA, Saadon took credit for pitching the idea to honor the fares to El Al President and CEO Elyezer Shkedy, but said the decision for the direct flight add-on was Shkedy’s.

“If we’re honoring passengers’ tickets, let’s also offer them an opportunity to fly with El Al, and make life easier for families that might lose baggage and lose a connection,” Saadon said in explaining the company’s rationale behind the add-on offer.

On Tuesday, the day after the glitch set off a three-hour buying frenzy, an El Al spokesperson told The New York Jewish Week that the status of tickets purchased during the frenzy was “unclear.” The position was reinforced Wednesday by a follow-up statement posted to the company’s Twitter feed.

“Thanks for your patience,” the tweet read. “Details/decisions re incorrect fares that were briefly sold on Monday are not finalized.”

The wavering was in contrast to two separate Twitter posts on Monday afternoon that pledged to honor the tickets. Saadon in the JTA interview acknowledged that the company’s posts via Twitter on Monday may have been a contributing factor in the decision to honor the tickets.

“Once we said it, we may as well follow our word,” Saadon said.

The decision to honor was “mainly to save face with El Al,” he said. “We’re talking about thousands of passengers. Most are customers anyways, they just took advantage of a ticket that was available at a low price. We’d rather keep them flying with El Al without disappointing them.”

To minimize exposure to similar glitches in the future, Saadon said that El Al will review fares before they are posted online and maintain a buffer of two hours before the process is finalized.

“I’m very pleased with the decision we made,” he said. “Our customers are very important to us and we want them to fly El Al.”