Two U.S. senators seek to learn why U.S. airline computer systems fail so often, and what the nation’s airlines plan to do to fix the problem.

Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote Tuesday to the leaders of 13 U.S. airlines, including United, Delta, American and Southwest, saying they are “concerned with recent reports indicating that airlines’ IT systems may be susceptible to faltering because of the way they are designed and have been maintained.”

Both senators, members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, have been harsh critics of airlines in recent months. In May, they called on the nation’s airlines to halt checked baggage fees for the busy summer travel period, while in March they introduced legislation to limit the “soaring, gouging fees that contribute to airlines’ record profits and passengers’ rising pain,” according to a release announcing the bill. 

This time, the senators wrote to the 13 airlines one week after a Delta failure crippled the airline’s operation for several days and almost a month after a Southwest router failure slowed its operation for nearly a week. Other airlines also have semi-regular technological meltdowns, resulting in canceled flights and disrupted travel plans.

Beyond annoyed passengers, the senators said they had other concerns. They said they fear too many airlines still rely on 1960s technology to run their systems, making them unusually vulnerable to cyberattacks.

“We encourage you to ensure that your IT systems have the appropriate safeguards and backups in place to withstand power outages, technological glitches, cyberattacks and other hazards ….” the two senators wrote to Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

Markey and Blumenthal also told airline CEOs they were concerned carriers no longer cooperate as closely to help each other’s passengers during operational meltdowns. Citing a Skift article in their letter, the two senators noted Delta no longer has an interline agreement with American Airlines, making it difficult for the two airlines to carry each other’s customers. In a crisis, the senators said, airlines should re-book passengers on another airline at no cost to customers.

As members of the senate’s minority, Markey and Blumenthal have limited authority to require airlines to change. But in this instance, they merely asked all 13 carriers to reply to 10 questions about their IT policies and procedures. The senators said they expect answers by September 16.

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Photo Credit: Delta customer Konstance Woods waits at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. She was among many passengers stranded on August 8 when Delta's computer system failed. Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press