This Saturday is an incredibly important day in the merger between US Airways and American. The airline has announced that the three-month transition to a single reservation system begins then. And once it begins, there is no turning back. US Airways will officially disappear from consumer view on October 17.
I explained the reservation system migration process back in May when it was first revealed, and the dates I guessed were within a week of what’s been announced. That might sound like dumb luck, but it’s actually a very good sign.
American had said it wanted to do the migration as early as possible in the fourth quarter, so that meant starting the 3 month countdown in July. Weekends have fewer flights and more slack if things go wrong, so it was clear that this would happen over a weekend.
I knew the team wouldn’t want to start the migration around the 4th of July holiday, so I figured last weekend would have been the first rational weekend available. What I forgot is that would mean the migration would occur the weekend of October 12, and that’s Columbus Day. Bad idea. With that knowledge, this coming weekend really was the first smart time to do the migration. The fact that this is what the IT team picked means things must still be going well.
Now that the dates are final, here’s how it’s all going to go down.
Today, you can book all flights out into the future as either US Airways or American flight numbers. That won’t change for flights through October 16. But as of Saturday, the US Airways flight numbers will disappear on all flights beginning October 17 and everything will be operated by American or American Eagle carriers from that date forward.
If you’ve booked a US Airways flight for travel on October 17 or later, then American will simply do a schedule change and put you on the equivalent American flight. (The US Airways and American flight numbers are identical, so if you’re booked on US Airways 5600 from Long Beach to Phoenix, it’ll just be switched to American 5600.) You’ll get an email with your new confirmation number in American’s system. If you booked through a travel agent, then your agent will just handle the schedule change process and that person will notify you. The changes should all be done within a week or so, but be patient. This won’t happen immediately on the 18th.
Once that’s done then, as strange as it sounds, the migration is done from the perspective of needing to transfer reservations. Nothing changes for the next 90 days, and people keep flying on their reservations as usual. With no new bookings coming into the US Airways system for flights on October 17 and after, the number of reservations in the system will slowly dwindle until those last redeye flights on October 16 depart. After they’re gone, the US Airways reservation system will be empty and everything will be in American’s Sabre system.
It may sound like it’s smooth-sailing from there, but of course, it’s never that easy. Though there aren’t going to be any issues with reservations being in the right system on October 17, that will be the first day that US Airways flights operate using the new system. That means agents will have to work flights using Sabre and US Airways flights will begin operating fully under American policies. There could be some minor hiccups as agents get a feel for the new way of doing things.
To mitigate that risk, American is cutting back that weekend. It’s going to operate a reduced schedule on October 17 and it’s going to cap the number of seats it sells on flights as well. That means if something goes wrong, there will be fewer people flying and more empty seats to provide a great deal of flexibility.
If you are flying that weekend, what can you expect? Well, it should still go well. After all, while the US Airways agents will be using a new system, American has put the exact same user interface from the old US Airways system on top of the American system. So there’s not much of a learning curve at all.
There could be some issues around the few policies that still aren’t aligned. For example, the upgrade process on US Airways is different for elites and that will change. There are a few other nagging differences, but most policies and procedures have already been harmonized.
If things go well, then nobody will even notice that October 17 is a real milestone in this integration. That day, the US Airways website will disappear and signage will change. There will be no US Airways in the public view except on the airplanes that have yet to be repainted. (Those should be gone by next summer.) There are other behind-the-scenes systems that still need to be integrated but from a customer-facing perspective, this will be the culmination of the merger, and US Airways will head to the graveyard.
So far, the technological integration has gone extremely well. It seems like the merger continues to be on track for that streak to continue.