American’s Post-Merger Computer Goal: Avoid Reservation Meltdown

American Airlines saw other carriers stumble after mergers when they combined reservation systems all at once, disrupting some flights. It’s trying something different.

As soon as July, American will start a three-month transition to shift travel booked with partner US Airways to its own reservation system. The US Airways name will disappear from booking and ticketing systems online, at airports and through travel agents around October. The change from two computerized reservation programs is the most crucial, and most daunting, aspect of an airline merger.

“It is the core system for every customer-facing transaction that happens at the airline,” Chief Information Officer Maya Leibman said. “It’s an absolutely critical piece of the airline’s infrastructure and also one of the most visible integration activities.”

American opted for the transition period after studying the stumbles and successes of earlier airline combinations, most of which merged computerized reservation systems overnight. Past missteps by US Airways and United Airlines caused flight delays or cancellations.

“Being the last of the major carriers to go through this, we’ve had a little bit of an advantage to see how everybody else has approached it,” Leibman said on a conference call. “At the end of this, we want our customers to say, ‘What integration?’ - - that they have no idea that anything actually happened.”

Learned Lessons

Lessons learned by American include adequately training workers on the new program, keeping the computer system of the larger carrier, communicating with travel agents ahead of time and not taking on more than one big task at a time. It combined frequent-flier plans in March.

American sent letters Tuesday to travel agents, online booking systems and others detailing how the so-called drain down switch will work. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline declined to give a date the work will start because systems are still being tested.

The airline is focusing on training 11,000 US Airways workers to prepare for the shift from the Shares system used at that carrier to Sabre at American, said Kerry Philipovitch, senior vice president of customer experience.

The switch will begin with a schedule-change date that triggers the 90-day period. Existing US Airways tickets won’t be affected unless they are for travel after the 90 days end. In those cases, passengers will be notified that their US Airways flight has become an American one with the same schedule and day of departure.

Booking Tickets

Passengers can continue to book tickets for US Airways flights and on USAirways.com for travel during the three-month transition. Passengers booking travel for after the 90-day drain down automatically will be sent to American’s Sabre system for bookings.

At the end of the 90 days, passengers trying to book on the US Airways website will be redirected to http://www.aa.com and airport self-service ticketing kiosks will no longer show the US Airways name.

The passenger-service system will finish the integration of American and US Airways except for a similar combination of flight operations systems that still must occur, Leibman said.

“Our mantra has been not to drop the football before we cross the goal line,” she said. Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker “has been pounding the drum that we can’t be complacent. We have to be totally paranoid and worried about everything that could possibly go wrong.”

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