United’s Reservation System Switch Goes Well With Only Minor Glitches

If you believed the headlines, you’d think that United had melted down over the weekend when it finally retired its Apollo computer reservation system in favor of a version of Continental’s SHARES system to form one airline from the customer perspective. But the truth was far from that. The incredibly complex switch went off quite well with only some minor glitches that should be ironed out quickly.

United Sends Apollo On Its Last Mission

I think my favorite headline was “United’s computer chaos” from The Economist’s Gulliver blog. Seriously, guys? A little dramatic, no?

The rationale behind that post was that United ran a poor on-time operation on Saturday, the day of the change. Sure, flights were delayed to some extent to accommodate passengers who were delayed by some glitches, but these weren’t awful delays. I went to masFlight to get more details on what happened.

masFlight has comprehensive flight status information that it can slice and dice in a million different ways. So I asked for details on the United operation from Saturday, and you can see the data here. First off, the combined airline completed 98.4 percent of all flights. That’s not a bad result at all, so there certainly wasn’t a problem with cancellations.

Regarding on-time performance, masFlight reports that the combined airline with all of its regional affiliates had 65.8 percent of flights arrive within 14 minutes of schedule (that’s what the Department of Transportation defines as “on time”). That’s not a stellar result, but it’s hardly a meltdown. It’s just a bad day that is fully expected when you make such a massive conversion.

Since the airline settled on Continental’s legacy system, it’s no surprise that the old United operation performed worse than the old Continental operation which ran above 70 percent. But even the old United saw 62.2 percent of flights arrive within 14 minutes. Again, not good, but not terrible either. In fact, it’s probably better that there were minor delays or a lot of people might have just missed their flights.

Reservations Intact
Let’s talk about what’s most important. When the new system went live, all reservations were given new record locators, and the newly-minted MileagePlus numbers should have replaced the old ones. While no work should have been needed by any passenger (the system would still recognize the old record locators if used), we didn’t want to take any chances so we reviewed all Cranky Concierge client records.

Everything was correct. The new MileagePlus numbers were in there. (And when partner frequent flier numbers were used, they were still in there.) All seats were retained, and it all looked as it should. That’s the biggest concern for any system switch – data loss. That didn’t happen here.

Of course, not everything went perfectly, and that’s where many of these other articles focused. So what did go wrong?

  • MileagePlus accounts weren’t all showing the right mileage balances (including mine) right away. Mine was fixed by Sunday and others were trickling in as well. United warned this would be the case and allowed awards to be held until the balances were all fixed. So that wasn’t a big issue.
  • There were check-in issues when people who checked in on the old United system didn’t have their boarding passes correctly registering in the new system. That is obviously a very short-lived problem because it was limited to those who checked in before the switch for travel after the switch. It shouldn’t be an issue anymore.
  • Most of the other issues were with corner cases. The vast majority of travelers wouldn’t have had issues, but I heard some issues with employee travel, some with upgrades having trouble checking in, etc. None were overwhelmingly terrible – more like minor inconveniences that will undoubtedly be worked out.

Now that we have this switch out of the way, life should get much easier for United travelers. There will be no more issues with two mileage programs and codesharing across airlines. Any reservations agent can help with your reservation no matter what. It’s one airline from a customer perspective with only a few minor exceptions.

The Remaining Differences
Where are things still different? There are a handful of airports that still have ex-Continental flights in different places than ex-United flights. You can see the full list of non-combined airports, but most aren’t big issues because they won’t see much connecting traffic between the two sides anyway. It just requires being careful when you drive to the airport in places like Boston, New York/LaGuardia, Kansas City, and San Diego to make sure you’re in the right place.

Possibly the biggest standout is at London/Heathrow where ex-Continental flights are still in their previous SkyTeam home, Terminal 4. United and most other Star Alliance airlines are in Terminal 1, so many connections from Continental flights will require a longer connecting time.

The crews also are still not mixed, but that’s not likely to be noticeable for most passengers. That and other small vestiges of separate airline identities will continue to disappear over time. This last step was the biggest hurdle by far, so it’s exciting to have it behind us with minimal disruption.

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