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American Airlines flights back in the air following computer problems

American Airlines is flying again on Wednesday after computer problems grounded flights for several hours Tuesday, leaving passengers fuming in terminals and on tarmacs.

But the disruptions from a nationwide grounding Tuesday continued to roil American's operations Wednesday morning.

Greg Chin, a spokesman for Miami International Airport, said 27 inbound American flights were scrapped in Miami early Wednesday but that by the morning no more arriving flights were delayed. Several departing flights were scrapped, too. By mid-morning Wednesday, the American arrival and departure board showed close to a dozen arriving flights were either canceled or delayed, while the departure list looked mostly on time.

As lunch approached Wednesday, passengers reported no unusually long lines at the American check-in stations or self-service kiosks. That was a big change from Tuesday, when the tally of canceled flights approached 100 as the carrier that dominates MIA traffic was unable to let any planes depart.

The Fort Worth-based airline said networking systems had been fully restored Tuesday evening and flights from hubs and international locations had started taking off.

“Despite the magnitude of [Tuesday's] disruption, we are pleased to report that we expect our operation to run normally with only a small number of flight cancellations expected [Wednesday],” the airline said, promising to add flights as needed.

A spokeswoman for the airline said 862 American Airlines and American Eagle flights were canceled system-wide Tuesday. About 100 of those were to and from Miami International Airport, where American is the largest carrier, said airport spokesman Greg Chin.

Some experts predicted a bumpy return to normal on Wednesday.

“This is a technology emergency, and when they restart they’re going to have a day’s worth of customers to re-accommodate,” Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at Hudson Crossing in San Francisco, told Bloomberg News. “I don’t think American has experienced anything like this in a long time, if at all.”

The disruptions left travelers at MIA waiting in line for more than three hours before the computers came back up and American employees were able to print boarding passes on a regular basis.

Airline workers showed up with boxes of granola bars and palettes of bottled water for the idled travelers left to inch along a line at least 300-people deep.

But even with the computers back on, American customers in Miami knew they had complications ahead. Susan Smith was heading back to North Carolina with her husband and 13-year-old after wrapping up a Key West vacation.

"We got in the first line at 2:30, thinking we were so early for the flight to Raleigh at 5:30," Smith said while kneeling on the airport floor a little before 6 p.m. and charging her iPhone. The new plan: a 10 p.m. flight scheduled to arrive at midnight.

In an earlier scene outside the airport, Richard Bell, 66, was stuck on an American flight that had just landed at MIA from Baltimore around 2:30 p.m. when the word came that passengers would have to stay put. The plane’s engines were still running, so the air conditioning worked. But the pilot came on the loudspeaker to warn that all systems were not functioning.

"He mentioned the toilet specifically as a problem,’’ said Bell, who was on his way to Mexico City for a vacation.

The pilot told passengers their plane was in search of a gate after the carrier suddenly was unable to send any planes into the air. As jets landed on schedule, many had nothing to do but wait off the runway for a spot at the terminal to unload passengers. Bell had an American connection to make shortly before 5 p.m. on his way to Mexico. Traveler Doug Todd, who was trying to get to New York, described the scene as “pretty chaotic” before computer systems came back to life.

“The line must have been, I don’t know, 300 people just to check their bags,” said Todd, who works in the travel industry. “The rebooking center has to have 400 people in line.”

Still, he described the airport as “reasonably calm” even though people were forced to sit on the floor because every seat was taken.

Customers who decided not to travel on Tuesday were told they could get a refund or change reservations without any charge.

American did not say what caused the computer systems to fail but noted that it saw “no evidence that today’s technical outage is related to the tragic events in Boston.”

Early Tuesday, the airline said its reservations system provided by Sabre Holdings Corp. was to blame, but later clarified on Twitter that the problem was not with Sabre and apologized to the company.

This report was supplemented with information from Bloomberg News.

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