The merging of the US Airways and America West reservations systems got a lot of attention because of the check-in problems that resulted in long lines at Philadelphia and Charlotte, but the "larger issue was the processing for closing a flight," US Airways president Scott Kirby said.
Kirby told analysts at the JPMorgan Aviation and Transportation Conference that "we had made it needlessly complex to close a flight," a process that involves tallying passengers and bags and collecting other data before an aircraft can push back from the gate.
That compounded the problems that resulted from differences in the way the merged carriers' systems had handled changes in electronic tickets.
The cutover, which moved the original US Airways onto the reservations platform used by America West, took place in the early morning of March 4.
The former US Airways system allowed customers to make changes to their e-tickets and reconcile the changes after the fact in revenue accounting. The America West system was designed to reconcile the changes on the spot. That meant that the merged carrier's e-tickets were "out of sync," Kirby said. "Web check-in didn't work and the kiosks wouldn't work. Agents had to manually work each one of passenger records."
Worse yet, when flights were closed incorrectly, the e-ticket of every passenger on every affected flight was out of sync as well, he said.
Now that the worst is over, "it is much easier to deal with us now because we no longer have the negatives and difficulties associated with having two different reservations systems," Kirby said.
Among the visible pluses for customers are new functionality for Web check-in and auto-upgrades.
Previously, US Airways customers had to call to get on upgrade list, and "we had a clunky process on the former America West side," Kirby said. "We've gotten positive feedback from our Elite customers on this.We feel good about where we are today."
In other presentations at the conference:
- JetBlue chief executive officer David Neeleman said the carrier was moving to "take care of our most valued customers" by holding out some prime seats for last-minute buyers. If you buy a ticket one to three days in advance, we'll make sure you get into a seat with greater pitch or an aisle or window seat."
As for the proposed link between JetBlue and Aer Lingus, which would involve a click-through to each other's Web sites, Neeleman said the Irish carrier "has done a lot of work on the Web site, but the big thing is how to connect the baggage.
He noted that "there are companies at JFK that do that, and if you are coming into the U.S., you have to recheck your bags anyway."
Neeleman added that Aer Lingus seems like "a good partner to have. We're just hammering out the light-connecting model."
- Gary Kelly, chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines, said the carrier deploy "significant new airport technology" this year.
He noted that the carrier has made strides in automating boarding passes, self-service check-in and baggage tagging systems in recent months. Southwest.com now accounts for more than 70% of the carrier's bookings, he said. As for the concept of "unbundling" air fares, such as charging for checked bags, Kelly said, "I hope we never have to resort to those techniques. We have a lot of other ideas to drive more revenue."
Southwest has a "keep-it-simple" product and philosophy, he said. "We don't want to nickel-and-dime our customers. We want to preserve the brand."
- American Airlines chief Gerard Arpey said the new GDS agreements "preserve our flexibility to pursue new and cost-effective technologies as they become available."
In the meantime, he said "We are driving customers to aa.com, our fastest-growing and lowest-cost distribution channel."