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?
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.