UPDATE: Just two days before the United Airlines’ reservations system cutover, a United official told business clients that the United PassPlus program will become unavailable until the third quarter of 2012.
Geared toward small- and medium-size businesses, PassPlus enables them to get upfront discounts on flights as they can purchase a variety of one-year prepaid plans.
Apologizing for the late notice, Joel Peterson, United’s sales manager of PassPlus and UATP, emailed businesses March 1, informing them that PassPlus functionality will be unavailable on the new United.com until the third quarter due to the conversion to a single Passenger Service System.
“This isn’t fair to you as the customer by not giving you more warning of these changes,” Peterson wrote. “We were hoping some creative workarounds would come to fruition recently but assuredly now will not. By communicating this change to you now hopefully you can complete any upcoming travel arrangements using United.com in the time left before the ability to do so will change this Saturday, March 3.”
In other words, PassPlus clients had just two days to complete their flight bookings on the old United.com before it is history.
Peterson assured PassPlus members that United is “working on alternative options to provide uninterrupted assistance for you to continue making reservations using your PassPlus account funds.”
The prepaid PassPlus plans require upfront payments from $10,000 to $250,000 per year.
The original post follows:
This weekend will be a momentous one for the merged United and Continental airlines, HP and Travelport, but the airline’s customers may not yet be fully aware of the extent of the changes and the potential short-term pitfalls.
At least not as of this writing, perhaps 24 to 36 hours before United shuts down both its portion of Travelport’s Apollo reservations system and ¬†Continental’s partition in HP’s SHARES as a prelude to consolidating the merged United Airlines onto SHARES.
United and Continental customers have been receiving emails for months notifying them that Continental OnePass will give way consolidating to the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program.
And both airlines’ websites currently have notices informing customers that starting March 3, when they enter www.united.com, they will navigate to what is the former Continental Airlines website.
Thus, there will be only one airline website, reservations system and loyalty program — in other words, there will be only one airline, United Airlines.
But, the airline’s customers haven’t yet been fully informed about the underlying reservations system shift, which could lead to significant disruptions.
But, United may become more active in communicating such scenarios on its websites and in social media over the next few hours.
Rahsaan Johnson, a United Airlines spokesman, says emails to frequent flyers about changes in their programs regularly lead to a spike in call center volumes.
Currently, a notice on United.com says “our contact centers are currently experiencing extraordinarily high call volumes.”
The high call volumes are related to weather conditions in the US Northeast and Midwest, travel waivers, and publicity about the website changes, Johnson says.
United Airlines’ employees have been training on the SHARES system since last October and data migration has been under way for several weeks, with the switchover slated for Friday night into Saturday. For a time, both websites and reservations systems will be inactive for the airlines until United’s SHARES system and the new United.com come back online on Saturday, March 3.
Or, that is the schedule, anyway.
Johnson says United likely will intensify its communications about the switch on the two websites, in social media and directly with passengers in the next hours, and this would probably lead to even higher call volumes.
United has had its well-documented problems in social media, which is all the more reason that its communications strategy over the next few days or even weeks should be well-thought-out.
He says the airline doesn’t want to stir “undue worry,” but others might argue that passengers should be better informed about potential disruptions in their flights so they can make backup plans.
United wants to communicate the most relevant information to customers when they need it — and will be communicating to passengers on booked flights via email closer to boarding times, he says.
Apart from the customer impact, HP’s SHARES system gains a major new customer as the old United joins Continental on the system.
And, the cutover will be a gut-wrenching event for Travelport as United created the Apollo system decades ago, although Travelport has had plenty of advance warning about the changes.
But, unlike United and Continental airlines, which closed their merger in 2010, Southwest says “the transition to a single ticketing system is a large and complex process that will take several years to complete.”
The United Airlines reservations system cutover is a “large and complex process,” as well — and it’s culminating this weekend only a year and a half after the merger deal closed.