In just a few days, American Airlines and US Airways will move to one reservation system. If you happen to be flying on Saturday, October 17th (or shortly thereafter), that means a bit of extra preparation. There isn’t much in the way of positive history when combining reservation systems. When US Airways and America West tried it, the entire system crashed. United Airlines ended up grounding their fleet when they tried to foist the combined airline on the smaller Continental’s systems.
American has done a lot of preparation for Saturday, and I have a lot of faith in management to get this right. Maya Liebman, their Chief Information Officer, noted last year that instead of one big switchover, there would be hundreds of smaller hurdles they would clear. This remains the biggest of what’s left, and the folks on Amon Carter Blvd in Dallas know what’s at stake.
A quiet transition? Happy customers, but not much public fanfare.
Get it wrong? Public scorn, all good will likely forgotten from the past two years of mostly smooth sailing.
I was reading an article while I wrote this post and learned that American Airlines has trimmed their schedule for Saturday by about 10%, focused mainly on US Airways hubs in Charlotte, Phoenix and Philadelphia. I found it interesting that the cancellations are focused there. Not sure if that’s a signal that they believe if there’s an issue it’s likely to occur in one of those hubs. That makes some sense given the change shouldn’t outwardly affect DFW, which isn’t seeing a complete res system change. 200 flights represents less than 10% of all US Airways flights, so still not a massive draw down. Given all that, what should you do to prepare if you do have to fly around this time.
Check-In Online As Early As Possible
Past transitions have seen problems for people being able to check-in or perform other similar functions at the airport. Those mergers also happened a number of years ago, where the percentage of people checking in online was less. By checking in online, you potentially help yourself in two ways. First, you may alleviate any issues you might have at the airport by checking in early. Second, if there is a problem checking in online, you can start to work on solutions with customer service as soon as possible.
Print Your Boarding Pass
No, I don’t mean download it to your smart phone. I would definitely do that as well. But, for this weekend, you want to have a physical boarding pass. If there are issues with boarding pass readers or other such devices along the way, having a good old physical boarding pass may save you some time. While you’re at it, print an extra copy (or have a backup picture of it on your smartphone).
Don’t Check A Bag Unless You Absolutely Have To
This is just good common sense for any flight, but here especially. For starters, if there are reservation system issues, you may have to wait in long lines at the airport to check your bag. Computer snafus could lead to higher incidence of lost baggage. The less times you need to interact with a computer or agent during times of potential irregular operations the better off you’ll be. Those services will be in high demand if there are issues.
Again, sounds simple. But, if something goes wrong, lines will be long. Bring an external battery for you iPhone or plug in with your laptop somewhere and get a little extra work done if you show up early and everything is smooth.
Research And Print Out Alternatives
In case something goes wrong, control your own destiny just a bit more by knowing how else you can get there. This is another strategy that I practice for most of my trips, though there are a lot of city pairs crammed into my brain. If you have a flight scheduled this weekend, spend a few minutes figuring out what other airlines fly there and at what times. Print out some options just in case flights do get cancelled and you need to find another way to get where you’re going. In a crisis where tons of flights are delayed, agents are going to be overwhelmed. Having some information to help them help you will save you time and may be the difference between an airport hotel and your final destination.
There you have it. No rocket science here, just a few tips to protect yourself. I do think things will, in general, operate smoothly through this transition. Will there be bumps in the road? Sure. But, I think a systemwide meltdown is a low probability. That being said, I’m not flying (though I almost had to book something last-minute). If you don’t need to travel on Saturday or Sunday, there’s nothing wrong with playing it safe.