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More delays Thursday at JFK after software glitch

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[July 31, 2008]  NEW YORK (AP) -- A software glitch that snarled air traffic and caused baggage pileups at John F. Kennedy International Airport stretched into Thursday, with more flight cancellations expected.

American Airlines planned to cancel at least five flights scheduled to depart from Kennedy and said others could be delayed, a day after the malfunction led to headaches and angry passengers.

Technicians had diagnosed the problem by Wednesday evening. However, the system was still being tested early Thursday and wasn't yet up and running again, said airline spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. She said she couldn't estimate when the system would be working again or how many passengers had been affected.

The glitch on Wednesday led to the delay of 48 flights and the cancellation of five more. Thousands of customers had to leave their luggage behind and hope it would be delivered later. Hundreds of bags accumulated in the lobby of Terminal 8, one of the newer buildings at the airport.

The breakdown was galling to some passengers already steamed over the airline's recent decision to start charging fees for checked bags on flights within the U.S. and Canada.

"I'm just not happy. I think it's crazy," said Mike Howell, who was en route to San Diego after visiting New York City. "If they do charge people $15 per bag, they should get it right."

The problem began when a piece of software failed in the computer that reads the bar code on each piece of tagged luggage and then whisks the bag via conveyor belt to the proper gate. With the automated system down, airline employees had to sort each bag by hand, an overwhelming task.

The airline tried delaying flights for 60 to 90 minutes, hoping that would be enough extra time to get them loaded, but lots of luggage still didn't make it aboard.

Because of the crisis, American waived its fees Wednesday for travelers checking fewer than three bags at JFK. Starting in June, the airline, like most of its competitors, has charged $15 for one checked bag or $40 for two bags. Passengers may still carry on luggage for free.

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Airline spokesman Tim Wagner said that a majority of the flights affected by Wednesday's baggage problem were international and thus not subject to the fees in the first place.

Hundreds of bags were diverted to nearby LaGuardia and Newark airports and put on alternative flights.

A spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration said its equipment wasn't affected by the malfunction but extra staff had been deployed to help keep the bag screening operation moving smoothly.

[Associated Press; By DAVID B. CARUSO]

Associated Press writers Adam Pemble, Samantha Gross and Marcus Franklin contributed to this story.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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