MIAMI— Friday night was a historic milestone in the US Airways and American Airlines merger. After 22 months of preparation, both airlines consolidated their Shares and Sabre Pasenger Reservation Systems (PSS) in one. The eyes of the industry watched closely into the night and early morning to see what hiccups or serious malfunctions may have occured during the merger. Would American and US Airways suffer the same fate as United and Continental did years ago when thousands of passengers were stranded and inexperienced staff faced reservation system illiteracy?
As the clock hit midnight and all US Airways flights departed, the activities at the new American Airlines IOC at DFW were going to be put to a test which, so far, have been successful. As the industry watched, it became apparent that this cutover was like no other. American Airlines conveyed their confidence in the cutover to passengers and media alike over last month. Promising a smooth transition with a long planned and 90 day executed PSS draw down, American believed the system merger could go off with few hitches.
Among the initial glitches, American said Flight Information Displays (FIDS) at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport didn’t show any flight information due to a problem with third-party providers who supply that information. American said the problem was fixed in a few hours. Also, some sources reported that some passengers found misunderstandings about their frequent-flier status and were mistakenly asked to pay for their checked luggage. American informed that check-in agents used helplines to receive guidance on the information in their training manuals.
.@AmericanAir spokesperson: No AA exec leadership will be on #US1939. They are “hunkered down” at IOC for PSS cutover
— Airways Magazine (@airwaysmagazine) October 17, 2015
The future under one reservation system began as the first post cutover flight took off from Salt Lake City shortly after midnight. As the first flights after the cutover took off, there were no apparent major problems.
First @AmericanAir post cutover flight dispatcher(out of SLC) went out on time. So far, so good…
— AirwaysNews (@AirwaysNews) October 17, 2015
Monitoring social media over the first 36 hours, AirwaysNews struggled to find any major problems with the merger. No mass confusion or flight cancellations would occur as seen in previous mergers. Small complications did occur for passengers connecting with flights booked on separate reservation systems. At check in for the final US Airways flight (US1939), AirwaysNews President and Founder Chris Sloan ran into this problem while checking in. After diagnosing the issue, American Airlines agents in San Francisco were able to fix the problem in under five minutes. Sloan’s checked luggage which was checked-in on the US Airways legacy PSS system (for US1939 ironically enough) shares for transferring to an AA flight to Miami was MIA for 36 hours. Turns out, the bag had made it to Miami but the baggage tag records differed and staff were unable to locate the record number or bag until Sunday afternoon. Sloan taking it in stride said “I made history twice – as the last passenger ever to board a US Airways flight and the last to have their checked luggage misplaced.”
My #US1939 flight to PHLwas booked in Shares but my @americanair res to Miami booked in SABRE is causing hiccups at checkin #cutover weekend — AirwaysNews (@AirwaysNews) October 17, 2015
To prepare for the reservation cutover and scenarios such as the one Chris Sloan faced, American spent months training staff on the two reservation systems. Classroom “training days” were offered and more than 50,000 employees completed over one million hours of training on reservation software programs. American ran over 5 million mock reservations through their system diagnose any issues before they occurred. The night before and succeeding day after the merger of the reservation systems, American increased staff levels to facilitate the cutover. As a final precaution, American Airlines temporarily cut over 200 flights from their schedule Saturday. According to American, 24 individual command centers with over 1,000 employees will operate 24 hours a day across the American network.
US Airways employees are using a modified version of the Sabre reservation system used by American Airlines. American says that “US Airways employees will use QIK CHK over Sabre, created to be very similar to the QIK CHK over Shares interface which those agents use today.
On day one of combined @USAirways / @AmericanAir operations, @flightaware is reporting zero cancelations so far. All good so far! — Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) October 17, 2015
These precautions may have been excessive, but American Airlines wished to avoid a repeat of the America West and US Airways cutover. Current American Airlines CEO Doug Parker was the CEO of America West during their messy 2006 merger with US Airways. Many lessons learned from that merger have been implemented in this merger.
Though an incredible feat, industry analysts predicted the cutover would be smooth. Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and adviser, stated “I believe that the Saturday cut-over day will go well, but there are always and will be hiccups. We saw this last weekend with Southwest’s service disruptions. This was an airline not currently involved in a merger, but the disruption shows airlines unfortunately can and do experience tech snafus. United and American Airlines have had recent tech disruptions as well.”
When discussing the importance of the cutover day, Harteveldt said “Cutover is the D-Day. Cutover day is the equivalent of performing a complex ballet for a dictator (the passengers) who will kill you if anything goes wrong. You give up your uniform and the new systems. It’s incredibly stressful and a very sad day for many (US) frontline employees. There are a number of things that can go wrong for employees on the frontline at the airport and reservations dealing with the cutover.”
Hearing “so far, so good” for US Airways- @AmericanAir res & flight ops system cutover. 1st ex-USAirways flt successfully dispatched as AA— Henry Harteveldt (@hharteveldt) October 17, 2015
According to Brett Snyder of the Cranky Flyer, “The most important thing about the disappearance of the US code is that it will make everything easier. No issues with codeshare, with upgrades, etc. It’ll finally operate as one airline in the consumer eye and that means a vastly simplified experience. But so much of this merger has already been done, that this is just another step on the road.”
The first day of post cutover operations was a huge success. According to a company spokesperson “The unified American saw an on time performance of 90% Saturday.” Looking ahead to the coming week, Amercan Airlines said “We know the first few days of business travel will present increased volumes and passenger loads. We continue to monitor everything closely and will do our best to make sure business-week customers have a seamless experience.”
All in all, the cutover day reflects well on the US Airways and American Airlines merger as a whole. Every crucial step has been meticulously analyzed and thoroughly prepared. AirwaysNews will continue to monitor the cutover of the US Airways and American Airlines reservation systems. The coming week will be the true test for American Airlines as the full flight schedule is implemented and the busy business week occurs.