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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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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