Not too many people count waiting in the security line at the airport as a favorite pastime, but thousands of travelers entering the US this week got to experience the massive cattle call of the US Customs check for even longer than normal. On Monday, just as many people were returning from holiday trips abroad, the computer network used to screen passengers was shut down at major airports all around the country.


With all the news of hacking and cybersecurity right now, it’s easy to connect the dots and place blame on an intentional threat, but in this case, it was nothing more than a faulty software update. The glitch crippled the system, leaving Customs officials to screen passengers one-by-one with a backup system, causing major delays. According to some passengers who took to social media to express their outrage, some airline customers even missed their connecting flights due to the outdated tool agents had to use.

A USAToday interview with U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow highlighted an unintended consequence of this type of software flaw. While cybersecurity and controlling travel into the country is obviously the top priorities, creating an even more difficult entry process is simply bad for business at a time when the US economy already needs a boost.

“The U.S. customs and entry process is already notorious for dissuading long-haul visitors from dealing with the hassle of coming here, and lost inbound travelers means lost export dollars at a time when our economy can ill afford that,” he said.

The first takeaway from this four-hour outage is the need for strong backup protocols, which many say Customs already had in place. The other, though, is that perhaps the busy holiday travel season is not the time to install a major software update; giving it time to take effect – and present any glitches it may have in store – when there are fewer travelers would be wise.

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