American, US Air to Merge Monday: Here’s What Frequent Flyers Should Expect
When the merger between American Airlines and US Airways closes on Monday, executives of what is to become the world’s largest airline will have the benefit of knowing the successes and failures of several similar mergers in the industry in recent years.
Similar to these mergers, the new American will have to combine two vastly different cultures as well as workforces with a history of strained labor relationships with management. People issues aside, it will also have to merge computer systems.
Some of the tasks at hand are fairly simple: begin moving towards getting a single operating certificate (to operate as one airline), paint many planes, and optimize its network to gain the efficiencies that it promised would occur as a result of the merger.
Merging computer systems will be anything but simple. Reservations and other computer systems that manage operations and crews are complex and need to handle large volumes of data – everything from passenger information to flight and gate details while processing payments and giving out award travel – that constantly change.
United, in its merger with Continental, opted to keep the latter’s system, even though Continental was a smaller airline. Some of the problems the airline encountered in moving United over to the Continental system, which included repeated system failures that stranded travelers and forced system-wide cancellations, might have been avoided had consolidation gone in the other direction.
American will keep Sabre, a system it created in house decades ago and then spun off as a separate company.
Travelers may not notice too many changes at the very beginning. This is because, after the merger closes, the two carriers will continue to operate as separate and distinct airlines until they obtain a new operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The first noticeable change will be the combined airline’s name on December 9: gone is AMR Corp., to be replaced by American Airlines Group.
Next up will be January 7, “a big day for us,” as Scott Kirby, who will serve as the combined airline’s president, told Frequent Business Traveler in an interview last month. “We will become a single airline or at least take the first step of becoming a single airline [on that day, and] offer reciprocal frequent flyer benefits,” he added.
What flyers won’t see, at least not immediately, is a single frequent flyer program that combines American’s AAdvantage program with US Airways’ Divident Miles program.
Another major milestone on January 7 will be the launch of the airline’s new Airbus A321T aircraft. The three-class planes will be the mainstay of its transcontinental service linking New York with San Francisco and Los Angeles, replacing aging and much larger Boeing 767-200s.
Kirby also told Frequent Business Traveler that there was a “silver lining” to the delay that followed the Department of Justice’s antitrust suit that will result in a “more seamless customer interface” on January 7.
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