United 'As Fully Prepared As Any Airline Could Be' Ahead Of Planned Res System Switch

United Airlines has "spared no expense" in preparing for the switch to a unified passenger services system, scheduled to occur before the end of the current quarter, according to senior vice president of worldwide sales Dave Hilfman. Following its merger with Continental Airlines, United opted to consolidate operations on Continental's pre-existing Shares system, furnished by HP.

"We're as fully prepared as any airline could be," Hilfman said. "This transition has such a big impact on our interface with our customers, at the airport, our website, everything. Clearly a lot of resources have been applied to this. We've looked to the past, trying to learn what has happened to others. We have done everything humanly possible to make sure we are prepared. There are lots of dress rehearsals going on right now."

Airlines as a group in recent years have had a decidedly mixed experience in switching to new passenger service systems. WestJet hit some bumps in October 2009 when cutting over to SabreSonic CSS from Navitaire's Open Skies system, and Virgin America reportedly still hasn't ironed out problems related to its switch to Sabre last fall. Delta (integrating the Northwest Airlines Pars system into Deltamatic) and JetBlue (switching to Sabre from Navitaire) in 2010 both apparently had an easier time of it.

Once the United migration to Shares is complete, the airline can move forward with several new product and service enhancements. United CEO Jeff Smisek in December toldBusiness Travel News that much product development remains "in the queue" and that once the merged airline is fully running on a single system "the floodgates are open on the products."

Hilfman noted that by operating on two system, the airline faces challenges in providing data to corporate clients. With a single system, United expects to provide improved reporting and traveler recognition.

Ahead of the switchover, the airline is finishing work on new corporate programs. "The bulk of both of our agency and corporate programs have been completed," he said. "There is a relatively small percentage that we are completing here in the first quarter of 2012. And we have to have them finalized before we get to a single code and a single passenger service system." The Continental code, Hilfman noted, "goes away by the time we get to a single passenger services system."