Sometimes Res System Switches (Mostly) Work

The folks at United Airlines may be kicking themselves as they perused this morning's headlines. Though much smaller than United, Etihad and Virgin Australia today each detailed some of their successes in implementing new reservations systems. The industry has a mixed track record in completing such cutovers, and those that go wrong result in more headlines than those that go smoothly. And even those that appear to go smoothly almost never are devoid of problems.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad said its "Big Switch" this past weekend to the Sabre Airline Solutions SabreSonic Customer Sales and Service system experienced "minimal operational disruption across the airline's global flight network during the cutover period." The transition, which the airline described as "the most challenging IT and business-critical initiative Etihad Airways has ever undertaken and is at the center of a $1 billion technology agreement" with Sabre, required "months" of work, training for "more than 6,700 Etihad Airways and third party staff" and the migration of 530,000 bookings.

"We now have a passenger services system that is world class," according to Etihad CEO James Hogan.

Maybe, but the switch hasn't been flawless, at least not according to the loudest critics: frequent flyers. "After the upgrade this weekend, I suddenly have a new confirmation number and seat maps are no longer an option," according to one commenter on the FlyerTalk online forum. "Also, it says, 'Only bookings created on/after February 23rd, 2013 can be modified online. For reservation prior this date, please call ... from within the UAE, or contact your nearest Etihad office from elsewhere. Seriously? Wow."

Another commenter wrote, "My seats are lost. I made a seat reservation for my flight, but they are gone." And two others also said they could not find seat maps for upcoming trips.

These problems, of course, pale in comparison to what other carriers experienced during their res system transitions, most recently and nightmarishly, United.

Meanwhile, Etihad's Hogan noted that "it is extremely beneficial" for marketing partners Etihad and Virgin Australia, in which the former holds a 10 percent equity stake, "to both now have the Sabre CSS system."

Virgin Australia's cutover to Sabre CSS occurred in mid-January. Though ZDNetdescribed it as "a bumpy transition," Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti in a Tuesday company announcement noted the "successful introduction of the Sabre system."

"Our new Sabre booking and check-in system will be key to driving future revenue growth," Borghetti added. "In fact we are already seeing the benefits of the system, with our proportion of bookings through the global distribution system increasing five-fold since its launch in mid-January. It is also important to note that bookings through GDS channels typically have a 10 percent yield premium to average bookings. The Sabre system will accelerate our growth in the corporate, government and high-yield markets."

Virgin Australia reported that "transformation costs associated with the delivery of the group's Sabre reservations platform" and a few other items totaled $36 million during the six months to Dec. 31, 2012.