Fewer Disruptions At United Airlines After Systems Merger

By Paul Riegler on 6 March 2012
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On day four following the merger of United and Continental’s Web and reservations systems, the problems that were reported on Saturday have markedly diminished.

In a statement issued late Monday, United said that the airline’s on-time performance on Sunday, the first full day of operations for the combined computer system, of 77.1% exceeded its performance on the same Sunday one year earlier.  As of 3:45 p.m. EST Monday, the airline’s domestic mainline on-time performance figure was 90.6%.

United also said that the conversion was the single largest of its kind in aviation history and that the company had “fine-tuned programming, databases and communications links to improve performance of dozens of other company computer systems and thousand of devices worldwide that interface with reservations data.”  United worked with other airlines and partners to synchronize systems and United employees received over 1.7 million hours of training ahead of the conversion.  In anticipation of potential problems, the company added 600 reservations agents for the transition period.

Despite all of the steps taken, passengers were reporting long hold times when calling the reservations center.  Shortly after midnight EST, one passenger, Christina Kielich, posting on the Wall Street Journal’s Web site, told of a 55-minute hold time to reach an agent.  Posting on Facebook, Leslie Voigt Kenfield reported a similar wait on the airline’s premier line for elite-status passengers.  Also on Facebook, Amy Paulose reported a 181-minute wait time to speak with an agent.  Steve Evans posted that he had difficulty checking in for a United codeshare flight at Copenhagen Airport because the agent could not find his reservation, even with the confirmation number

On Saturday, the combined airline abandoned Apollo, the previous United Airlines system, and migrated the entire operation to Shares, the existing Continental Airlines system, providing customers a single platform for finding flights, booking tickets, checking-in online, and managing airport operations such as boarding.  The system also manages the now-combined MileagePlus frequent-flier program

As of Monday morning, a message on the new United Web site reported: “We’ve completed our transition to a single website.”  On Sunday, the message had read: “The United.com transition is almost complete.  We are now operating a single website. Please feel free to start exploring, but please note that updates to some features are still in progress.”

The history of such transitions is checkered at best.  Last October, Virgin America, which did not have to contend with the difficulties of merging two airlines together at the time of a system migration, experienced significant difficulties when moving to a new platform.

When US Airways attempted a similar migration a year after its merger with America West in 2005, some customers were unable to book flights via the Web or view their frequent-flier accounts.  A year later, when the airline migrated to a combined reservations system, it experienced numerous problems as well.

In recent years, only Delta Air Lines was able to pull off a post-merger systems migration without any problems when it transitioned Northwest Airlines’ system to Delta’s.

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