There are a lot of different milestones that can be used to determine when a merger is truly complete. The one I always use is when you can no longer book a flight on both airlines. For United and Continental, that day comes this Saturday.
In the wee hours of early Saturday morning, United’s Apollo reservations system will be shut down in favor of Continental’s SHARES system. In fact, we’ll see a lot kept from the Continental side, even though the United name will reign supreme.
Beginning on Saturday, you will no longer be able to book a flight on Continental – they’ll all be on United. This is great news . . . not that the Continental name is disappearing but rather that there is only one airline to deal with. This means no more problems of working with two different airlines even though they’re really one.
Considering I spent over an hour trying to use a Mileage Plus member’s miles to upgrade a Continental flight last week, this piece of the merger couldn’t come soon enough.
Of course, the transition won’t be easy. It never is. The United reservations folks will now be forced to use an unfamiliar system. Training undoubtedly helps, but it’s still a big change. And then there’s the physical switch itself.
It is no small task taking all that reservation data, putting it into a new system, and then hoping it all works as planned. It’s never a perfect transition. Remember when US Airways and America West flipped the switch? There were a lot of problems.
So, if you’re flying United for the week beginning this Saturday, give yourself some extra time at the airport just in case. Here are some other things to keep in mind.
Since the airlines are moving to Continental’s reservation system, it’s those record locators (confirmation numbers) that will survive. If you booked on United before the system switch, I would assume that there will be a mechanism for the new system to still recognize those old numbers when you try to use them. But if you had a split reservation with both United and Continental flights, you’ll be fine just remembering the Continental number going forward.
UPDATE: I just received clarification from someone at United that this is not quite what’s happening. Both United reservations and Continental reservations will be transferred into a new SHARES system, so there will be a new reservation number assigned to each reservation. If you have a reservation with both United and Continental flights, you will have three record locators: the old United one, the old Continental one, and the new combined United one. The key point? Any of them will work when you try to pull up your reservation.
If you’re one of the few people who love the not-so-affectionately nicknamed United.bomb website, then you’ll be sad to know that the Continental website is the survivor.
It’s really going to be a carbon copy of the current Continental website. For a pre-production version of the new site, head over to pss.united.com and you can play around.
March 3 also will be the effective date of the new MileagePlus combined frequent flier program. If you have a Continental OnePass number, that will be your Mileage Plus number. If you have a current Mileage Plus number from United, then that’s toast.
If you had both and linked them, then you’ll just consolidate under the Continental number. If you never had a OnePass number, you’ll be getting a new one from United.
Patience is the key in the next couple weeks. If you’re flying United, it could be rough going as the systems combine, but in the end, it will be a much better experience since the airlines will operate as one.
There are more things to be merged, but most of those aren’t as visible to travelers. This is the big weekend.