Beginning Tuesday night and extending into Wednesday, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America will be migrating to a single passenger service system (PSS). These critical computer systems manage everything from fare inventory to reservations to departure control. A failure can be horrible for an airline’s operations, which is why everything needs to go right. Fortunately Alaska has had the opportunity to learn from other airline mergers in recent years and has taken some steps to mitigate the risk.
In fact, I delayed writing about this news until today because I think it’s unlikely that most people will even notice there’s something big going on underneath the hood.
Remember that Alaska and Virgin merged several years ago. The loyalty programs were only combined earlier this year, after providing months of opportunity for customers to transfer miles back and forth. The airlines have consolidated their gates at most airports. Since October 5, any new flights on Virgin America were already begin booked as if they were Alaska Airlines flights. And tomorrow night, when VX 1182 departs San Francisco for Newark, that will be the end of the road for Virgin America (operationally speaking).
Even though the planes still say Virgin America on the side, they’ll be operated with Alaska Airlines flight numbers. All those flights that were booked after October 5 will already be Alaska Airlines flights, so the changeover is a bit of a non-event. That’s normally the biggest risk: someone shows up at the airport and no one can find their reservation. Customers trying to reach the Virgin America website or telephone systems will be automatically redirected to Alaska Airlines.
Extra staff will be on hand in airports and by phone to address any issues that appear. But one reason for the Tuesday-Wednesday changeover is that, if something does go wrong, it will reduce the number of affected passengers. Tuesday and Wednesday are typically slow travel days, but the weekdays also have the most experienced travelers and the most experienced staff.
Personally I won’t be flying on the big day, though we head to Austin on Friday. I think the omens are good. We have great weather up here in Seattle, with four days of temperatures pushing 78 degrees. I’m sure the employees at Alaska Airlines will be working extra hard to keep things running smoothly so they can finish up and go enjoy the sun.