Commentary

US Airways Flies Smoothly Into History

After two years of planning, American Airlines finally subsumed US Airways’ reservations system over the weekend and the latter has gone the way of Pan Am, Braniff and Continental in the psyches of world travelers. There were a few hitches but nothing major. 

“The airlines, which merged in December 2013, combined their two passenger service systems overnight Friday and appeared to have no significant issues,” writes Andrea Ahles for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Customers were able to check in for flights at self-service airport kiosks that now say American instead of US Airways. The US Airways website immediately redirected visitors to the AA.com website. Signs at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport’s Terminal E and on International Parkway were switched out overnight Friday.”

The Motley Fool’s Adam Levine-Weinberg details the extensive preparations for the switchover in a story picked up by USA Today, including merging the frequent flyer programs first, choosing American’s reservation system over US Airways’, getting a jump by starting to direct passengers to American’s site back in July and by hiring 1,900 employees to pick up the slack as former US Airways workers underwent training on the American system.

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As several stories point out, United’s switch to Continental’s reservation system in 2012, was riddled with mayhem, mishaps and lessons to be leaned. Not that they were the first.

American CEO Doug Parker and several of top executives “have plenty of experience with rough merger integrations,” Levine-Weinberg writes, having “also led US Airways through its merger with America West a decade ago. The reservation system migration there was a disaster, leading to lost reservations, massive lines and widespread flight delays.”

Not so this weekend; instead, a bit of nostalgia was in the air. 

“Early in the morning of Saturday, October 17th at 05:51 EDT, the curtain finally came down for US Airways (US) as flight 1939, the airline’s last branded flight ever, landed at Philadelphia International Airport,” recounts Chris Sloan for Airways News. “On its last day of operations … flight 1939 operated a nostalgic and emotive 5,394 miles coast-to-coast trek: Philadelphia – Charlotte – Phoenix – San Francisco – Philadelphia in which the 76 years of history of the fabled airline was commemorated. Whatever adulation and passion the former US Airways failed to inspire by the traveling public, the airline certainly boasts an appreciative fan base in loyal customers and proud employees.”

US Airways airline was formed as All-American Aviation in Pittsburgh in 1939 — hence the 1939 flight number, the AP reports, providing airmail service to the Ohio Valley. It became Allegheny Airlines in 1953, a few years after it started ferrying passengers. It rebranded as US Air in 1979, which it used until 1997, when it became US Airways. 

“Perhaps one of the most lauded moments in recent US airlines history happened on Jan. 15, 2009, when former fighter pilot Chesley Sullenberger safely landed Flight 1549 on the frigid Hudson River, saving the life of all 150 passengers and four crew members,” Rebecca Ibarra writes for the New York Daily News.

Its $17 billion merger with American became official on December 9, 2013, with the Arizona Republic’s Dawn Gilbertson and Ryan Randazzo pointing out that “combining computer systems, other operations will take time.”

Apparently, as much as it needed.

“American said more than 90% of its flights arrived within 14 minutes of schedule on Saturday. Among the initial glitches, American said airport information displays at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport briefly didn’t show flights and their departure and arrival times, due to a problem with third-party providers,” reports Susan Carey for the Wall Street Journal.

There were some snafus over gates at Los Angeles’ LAX and New York’s La Guardia and “misunderstandings” about frequent-flier status here and there but the WSJ’s subhed points out that the transfer “went smoothly overall.”

But, as news abhors the vacuum of “everything’s went smoothly,” American found itself with a mounting public relations challenge over flight attendants forcing a sobbing woman to deplane before takeoff on a flight last week. Apparently, she had not heard a request to take her seat.

“If you’ve ever felt the desire to boo an airline in unison with your fellow passengers, have I got the story for you,” writesFortune’s Chris Matthews Friday before offering a synopsis of a story that had broken in the tabloids earlier in the week and gained momentum as a YouTube video of the incident went viral.

“American Airlines wrote in an e-mail statement to the Washington Post early Thursday that the incident has been taken care of,” reports the Post’s Yanan Wang, who interviewed the 27-year-old woman who got the yank. 

“We are in contact with the passenger and have apologized,” the statement reads. “We have addressed the issue with our team members to ensure we provide a consistent, quality travel experience for our customers in the future.”

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