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Aviation buffs might want to make their reservations now for US Airways Flight 434 or Flight 496 on the evening of Oct. 16.
Those two flights will be the last departures under the US Airways brand as American Airlines Group prepares to put all reservations for travel on Oct. 17 and after under its American brand.
We suppose you should pick Flight 434 from San Francisco to Philadelphia if you want to be on the very last US Airways flight. Both it and Flight 496 from Phoenix to Denver take off at the same minute: 9:55 p.m. PDT for the San Francisco flight and 9:55 p.m. MST for the Phoenix flight.
But Flight 434 lands nearly four hours later, at 6:18 a.m. EDT Oct. 17 in Philadelphia, compared to Flight 496’s 12:34 a.m. MDT arrival Oct. 17 in Denver.
And of course, that’s more than three months away — schedules can and often do change, American cautions. That’s just the way it looks right now.
American Airlines Group Inc. actually begins the countdown next weekend to the end of US Airways Inc.
From the weekend of July 18-19, all new reservations made for flights departing Oct. 17 and beyond will be listed as American Airlines flights. Reservations already made for travel after that date will be “migrated” to the American reservations system.
“At that point on Oct. 17, we’re going to be one airline for our customers,” says Maya Leibman, the American executive who is heading the technology effort. “We’ll have one website, one mobile app, one set of travel policies and elite benefits.”
“The great news for customers is that after our cutover on Oct. 17, the travel experience will be seamless,” said another American executive, Kerry Philipovitch. “They’ll be able to check in at any American counter rather than having to know to go to a US Airways counter and an American counter. And all of our policies will be aligned as well. So it’s a great baseline for us to present ourselves as one airline to our customers.”
American was sending out letters Friday to elite-level members of its AAdvantage frequent-flier program about the upcoming conversion and telling them what it will mean for them.
The change marks one of the most precarious parts of any airline merger – the move of two airlines’ reservations onto a single computer system.
Preparations began even before American and US Airways finalized their merger in December 2013. US Airways had the bad memory of its own botched marriage of the US Airways and America West Airlines Inc. reservations systems following their 2005 merger.
In that case, executives decided to use the reservations system of smaller America West. Among other problems, that required more people to be trained and more equipment and systems to be converted than if the larger US Airways system had been kept.
American’s top executives, many of whom came from US Airways in the 2013 merger, opted to use American’s larger Sabre reservations system rather than US Airways’ smaller SHARES system.
For travel to be completed before Oct. 17, US Airways reservations will be made and stay on the US Airways systems. The change only affects flights for Oct. 17 and afterward.
Leibman, American’s chief information officer, estimated that by Oct. 17, all but 10 percent of the US Airways bookings made by July 17-18 will need to be converted in American Airlines reservations. The rest will be for travel before Oct. 17.
Philipovitch, American’s senior vice president for customer service, outlined some of the steps American is taking to getting ready for the Oct. 17 move to a single system:
More than 8,000 airport agents will go through five-day training programs.
1,600 reservations agents will under four weeks of training.
The airline has hired more than 600 airport agents and almost 1,300 reservations agents to boost those ranks and to cover for the employees who will be gone for training.
“We are getting ready and excited to go,” Philipovitch said.
Airport kiosks will change over to the AA displays. Signage will change. American is in the process of developing new uniforms for employees, but will have things to add to US Airways uniforms to mark them as AA.
Although US Airways is disappearing as a brand, it’ll take some time longer for it to completely disappear.
American estimates that American’s paint job won’t be on all US Airways until second quarter 2016.
Although the merge of the reservations system is one of the most visible tasks, there are other big jobs ahead, most on the flight operating side, Leibman said: the flight operating system, the pilot crew management system, the flight attendant crew management system and the maintenance and engineering systems.
While American has negotiated single bargaining agreements for pilots and flight attendants, it still has contracts that must be worked out for its mechanics and related employees, ramp workers, other ground workers, airport and reservations agents and other employee groups.
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