American Airlines is making final preparations to migrate US Airways' reservations into its Sabre reservations system, with the switch over planned for 17 October.

The reservations migration is arguably the largest customer-facing integration activity since American and US Airways began codesharing in early 2014 and one many other airlines have stumbled with during their own mergers. As a result, the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier is putting itself through its paces in preparation.

“We’ve really tested the heck out of everything,” says Maya Leibman, chief information officer of American, during a media call. “There’s no question that this is an incredibly complex process. All of the things we’ve done greatly increases the probability of success, but it’s not a 100% guarantee.”

The airline began what it calls a “drain down” in July to minimise potential issues. This involved shifting all new US Airways bookings to the American system and letting the existing US Airways reservations drain out of the system. This leaves it with only about 4% of system reservations that need to migrate later this week.

In addition, American is reducing flight schedules at the three largest US Airways hubs – Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix – by about 11% on the 17th as another way to minimise any potential disruptions.

Liebman estimates that the risk of a major technology issue on the 17th has been reduced by about 60% with the drain down approach but acknowledges that risk still exists.

“No technology leader can stand up with certainty and say this can’t happen to them,” she says. “The key really is being as prepared as possible and then, in the unlikely event of an issue, triage and remediate as quickly as possible.”

American has a more than 100 person “command centre” in place to monitor its systems and operations through the cutover as well as extra staff on hand at airports and its reservations centres to help out as needed, says Liebman.

The command centre is already up and running and will be staffed through 27 October, she adds.

American has some experience with disruptions during the integration of two airlines reservations systems. Many in its management team worked at either America West Airlines or US Airways when the two combined their reservations systems in 2007, which remains an example of the technology issues that can occur during such an event.

Reports from the time talk about gate agents unable to access reservations made in the other airlines' system, kiosks unable to communicate across platforms, delayed flights and lost bags.

More recently, problems with airport kiosks during the combination of United Airlines and Continental Airlines onto a single reservations platform in 2012 resulted in long airport queues, delayed flights and frustrated passengers.

One concern is whether a “computer issue” that temporarily grounded flights to three of American’s hubs on 17 September could impact the reservations integration. Liebman says it was completely unrelated and even spins it as a good training opportunity ahead of the big day.

“It was a great reminder for is that we cannot check our systems and programmes and processes enough to prepare for PSS,” she says, calling the problem a “connectivity” issue without elaborating further.

American has “spared no expense” and spent countless hours training thousands of staff members in preparation for Saturday’s migration, says Liebman and the carrier’s senior vice-president of customer experience Kerry Philipovitch.

They recommend that passengers travelling on 17 October download the American app, check-in ahead of time and be sure to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport.

Source: Cirium Dashboard