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Computer Virus Infects Air Canada Data

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August 20, 2003

Montreal, Quebec - Air Canada went through another check-in nightmare on Tuesday after a computer virus infected its reservations systems, prompting the airline to warn its passengers of delays and cancellations.

The virus, dubbed "White Hat," hit as the country's largest airline was still reeling from a worldwide shutdown of its operations last Friday following the massive power blackout in Ontario and the U.S. Northeast. But even before the blackout hit, Air Canada operations were strained by the summer travel rush. Last month the insolvent airline started laying off a quarter of its workforce of 40,000 as part of its restructuring under bankruptcy protection, leaving check-in counters understaffed.

At least one other Canadian carrier, Air Transat, a unit of Transat A.T., was struck with the virus on Tuesday, but it only slowed down its administrative systems. The virus crippled operations at Air Canada's reservation counters at airports across the country, as well as its call centers. "It's slowing things up," Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said, adding a fix was being installed by International Business Machines Corp.

The virus had not attacked computer systems handling flight operations, Arthur said. White Hat is what some people are calling a new worm that showed up on Monday. It has also been dubbed "Welchia" or "Nachi," said Patrick Hinojosa, chief technology officer of anti-virus vendor Panda Software. Computers worldwide have been hit by a string of four different major Internet worms in the past week, prompting anti-virus vendor F-Secure to declare this the "worst ever virus week."

The virus attack came at a bad time for Air Canada as the carrier had barely finished catching up on delays caused by the cancellations of almost 700 flights last Friday. The head of the union representing Air Canada's ticket agents, Buzz Hargrove, called on Air Canada to stops its layoffs until the end of the peak travel season so that passengers are not mistreated.

"We have argued that the layoffs shouldn't take place until September, then you have got time to work out the shifts, train the people and be assured that the customers are treated fairly," said Hargrove, chief of the Canadian Auto Workers.

Air Canada says its severe financial crunch will not allow it to postpone the layoffs. The airline obtained court protection from its creditors on April 1 and hopes to come out of it before year's end, after having obtained job and pay cuts agreements from its unions, reduced leasing terms from aircraft lessors and significant relief on up to C$9 billion of unsecured claims.

Source: White

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