At United Airlines, they called it the “cutover.” It was the final and most difficult piece of the puzzle in the merger with Continental Airlines, and it involved combining two complex passenger reservations systems.
But some United passengers referred to what happened in March as something else: chaos. They complained about delayed flights, sluggish customer service response times and rude treatment by overwhelmed ticket agents struggling to learn a new computer system.
A closer look at the cutover and its repercussions suggests that no airline is immune to a systems failure that could affect your next flight and that beyond a common-sense strategy or two, passengers can’t do much to prepare for a meltdown. On another level, United’s switch is also a case study in how careful planning by the airline’s customer service team averted a disaster that could have inconvenienced even more passengers.
The lead players in United’s IT drama are two reservations systems that handle functions from ticketing to loyalty programs. United’s was called Apollo; Continental’s was Shares. United chose to use Shares shortly after merging with Continental, and late on the evening of March 2, almost a year and a half after the consolidation became official, it completed the process of combining Apollo and Shares by copying the data on both systems, backing it up and then consolidating it.