American Airlines' decision to work with HP to build a new passenger services system dubbed a "bold move" by Monte Ford, the carrier's chief information officer took many observers by surprise.

Amadeus has been courting the carrier for several years. Its Altéa platform is up and running, serving several of American's Oneworld alliance partners, including British Airways and Qantas. The announcement that American would end the most significant element of its relationship with Sabre also signaled the end of an era. Darryl Jenkins, former director of The Aviation Institute at George Washington University and founder of theairlinezone.com, noted that throughout his adult life, people have referred to American's system as "Mother Sabre." The first real break by a U.S. legacy carrier from a legacy PSS represents a "new era in decision-making," he said.

Henry Harteveldt, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, wrote in his blog that American and Sabre are "so intertwined that it's hard to imagine one without the other -- kind of like 'Cher' and 'farewell tour.'" But Sabre will remain, metaphorically at least, in the next room. EDS, which was acquired by HP last year, manages Sabre's IT systems.

In an analysis of the American- HP deal, Ian Tunnacliffe, research director of Travel Technology Research Ltd. in Burnham, U.K., wrote that "if HP finds that the going gets really rough as it tries to deliver on its promises, help may well be at hand and not so far away. The most experienced company in the airline IT industry knows American's needs inside and out. And it is already a key subcontractor to EDS in delivering the current solution."

Tunnacliffe believes the creation of a new system is healthy for the industry. "In recent years, Amadeus has won 100% of the top-tier airlines that have announced a change to their PSS provision," he wrote.. "Monocultures are seldom good news, and the entry of a serious competitor with deep pockets has the potential to significantly improve the landscape."

American's announcement also stirred speculation about Amadeus' next move. At the National Business Travel Association's annual conference in San Diego last month, Amadeus revealed that United Airlines would not implement the Altéa system next year as planned. United signed a contract with Amadeus in 2005 to migrate to the Altéa platform.

David Jones, president and chief executive officer of Amadeus IT Group, told The Beat, a business travel newsletter, that United, which lost $705 million in the first half of this year, "has to think very hard before embarking on a substantial investment program. We have a contract and we'll see how we can best accommodate their new circumstances without giving up our rights under the contract."

That comment sparked a new round of buzz over United's plans. Continental will join the Star Alliance next month and has said it ultimately wants to be on the same IT platform as United. Continental has been a customers of EDS' SHARES, a legacy system, since 1991. It signed a new seven-year contract with EDS in 2007.

HP, EDS' new owner, has said that it plans to market Jetstream to other carriers. If all goes as planned always a big "if" in the airline IT world Continental could have a new option.