Last week, United-Continental Holdings CEO Jeff Smisek admitted in a conference call to investment analysts that the airline had been overly optimistic in its belief that the merger of United's and Continental's airline reservation systems last March would not have much impact on passengers or on the company's bottom line. You may recall Smisek's prediction of a smooth transition just before problems with the cut-over appeared, and his belief that the airline was "exceedingly well prepared for it."

Smisek expressed confidence at the time because the airline had conducted four dress rehearsals and had spent significant amounts of time and money training the airline’s staff on how to operate the new reservation system.  However, as he told the analysts in explaining the 39-percent drop in company profits compared with the same quarter last year, many customer-service agents and reservationists (mostly United personnel who have had to learn the Continental system) are still struggling to master the new reservation system. The result has been continued customer dissatisfaction with the airline. Upgrades to the reservation system aimed at rectifying the matter will be introduced in October. Hopefully for United passengers, there won’t be any glitches associated with the upgrade.

As a result of the problems, Smisek said, “our operational performance didn't meet our goal of providing the reliability that our customers expect.” He added that, “I know we created some customer disservice because of all the changes we made so quickly, and I apologize for that.”

Issues with the reservation system are not the only problem United is confronting. As noted in a story in the Chicago Tribune, “United has among the worst performance on several measures that are important to consumers, such as on-time arrivals, flight cancellations and handling bags properly.”

Out of curiosity (and since I will likely have to be flying on them soon), I'd like to know: Has anyone flown United Airlines recently and had problems caused by the reservation system? Or does your experience seem to indicate that the airline has gotten on top of the issues?

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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