The #AADreamliner parked at Chicago O’Hare Gate L10
The American Airlines – US Airways merger has gone relatively smoothly so far, with the AAdvantage/Dividend Miles integration in particular seeming to go off without any major difficulties. However, American today announced a tentative timeline for the biggest and arguably most difficult piece of the merger integration – the combination of the American and US Airways reservation systems into a single one. Per the Airline Biz Blog, an initial announcement is expected in July, which will provide a 90-day warning for the shutdown of the legacy SHARES system currently used by US Airways.
The AA/US integration will work somewhat differently than other recent reservation systems integrations, such as the United/Continental integration. Instead of a “knife’s-edge” cutover, where the systems are transitioned overnight, American plans to use the “drain-down” method to gradually wind down US Airways’ system and transition reservations to American’s Sabre-based system. As mentioned above, sometime in July, a schedule change will be announced that will go into effect 90 days from that date – essentially, the cutover date, likely sometime in October, at which SHARES is turned off. After that date, all US flights will become AA flights with American flight numbers, but a transitional period will occur during those 90 days.
During the transition period, US Airways flights scheduled to depart during the transition period will continue to be booked in SHARES, but for any flights beyond the cutover date, customers will be redirected to AA.com to book their flights under the new AA flight numbers in Sabre. Once the cutover date arrives, any existing US Airways reservations that were made prior to the 90-day announcement will be transitioned to Sabre.
Why do it this way? The basic underlying premise is to minimize the number of passenger records that need to be transitioned from the old system to the new system. By giving three-months notice, and issuing all flight reservations after the cutover date under the American reservations system, the hope is that only a small number of “old” US Airways reservations will remain in the system, thus reducing the possibility of system glitches wreaking havoc. American estimates that roughly 10 percent of existing bookings in the US Airways system when the 90-day “cooling off” period is announced will be for travel after the cutover date. Fewer reservations to transition in theory means a reduced probability of the mass mayhem that occurred with the Continental-United or America West-US Airways integrations.
So is it time to start worrying? While the past history of reservation systems integrations suggests trouble on the horizon – when was the last time a major integration went smoothly, anyway? – the American-US Airways integration team does seem to be taking the right steps to minimize the potential for problems. For starters, in theory at least, there should be nothing to worry about for the 90% of reservations already in the AA system that won’t be touched at all. With only a relatively small number of reservations from the already considerably smaller SHARES system to be migrated, the potential for mass numbers of lost or missing reservations, or major system crashes in Sabre due to issues with migrating new records, would seem to be relatively low.
In addition, the combined airline’s largest hubs at Chicago O’Hare, DFW, and Miami are legacy American hubs, so there is no learning curve to adapt to the new system. On the other hand, employees at the large US Airways hubs of Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Phoenix will have to get used to Sabre, and the fact that they will receive only one week of training on the new system does concern me a little (though based on what a few res system geeks have told me, moving from SHARES to Sabre is easier than the other way around). Processing delays at those hubs could ripple through the system.
In summary, if you have a US Airways flight booked from October onwards, about all you can do is watch and wait. If you’re thinking about a trip this fall or winter, you might want to hold off on booking for a couple of months, for no other reason than the major schedule change to be announced in July could throw a wrench into your connections. This is particularly true if you’re booking an itinerary that requires separate tickets, as I’m doing for a trip to Europe this October to take advantage of American’s business class fare sale.
I’m going to wait and see how the schedule changes work out before booking my onward tickets from Paris, and I’d suggest you do the same if you’re in a similar situation. For the most part, though, I’m encouraged by the gradual transition process outlined by AA, and given the relatively painless merger process so far, am cautiously optimistic that they’ll be able to pull this off without significant issues.
On another note, if you’re fretting that you only have a few months left to see a US Airways livery or try the Envoy business class product, fear not. The process of repainting the planes won’t be completed until 2016, and no word yet on when the Envoy Suites on the A330 will be replaced with American’s international business class product.