Another chapter in aviation history ends Friday night, with the final US Airways flight.
US Airways Flight 1939 left Philadelphia early Friday and will make stops in Charlotte and Phoenix before landing in San Francisco. At 9:55 p.m., the flight will head back to Philadelphia, with a scheduled touchdown at 6:18 a.m. Saturday.
Special gate and in-flight events, including special meals, cookies and champagne toasts, will take place along the way, but as of Saturday at 12:01 a.m., the 76-year-old airline will officially cease to exist and become part of American Airlines.
As part of that changeover following a two-year merger process, the two airlines’ reservations systems also will become one.
Some past airline merger “switchover” days have not gone well, most notably when United Airlines adopted the reservation platform of Continental Airlines in 2012.
But “given that American has likely been testing this cut over for months, I wouldn't expect much in the way of major glitches,” said FareCompare co-founder Rick Seaney.
He’s right about the testing part.
An army of American Airlines workers has been testing and planning for what the carrier hopes will be a seamless and trouble-free transition.
“We combined the frequent-flier program(s) back in the spring,” said American Airlines spokesman Josh Freed, and in July the airline stopped taking reservations for US Airways flights. “So more than 90 percent of flights going forward already exist in the American reservation system and don’t need to be moved over the US Airways system now,” said Freed.
The airline ran tests of the cut-over systems and procedures that will used be when the clock strikes midnight and conducted more than 1 million hours of reservation software training with more than 50,000 employees. In addition to combining ticket counters and gate positions, the airline has installed, rebranded and tested thousands of computers and kiosks.
No problems are expected, said Freed, but just to be sure, the airline has reduced the weekend flight schedule by 200 flights and increased staffing levels at airports on Saturday by 20 percent.
“Every previous morph day – going back to the big bang merger of Continental, People Express Airlines and New York Air – has been a disaster,” said business travel expert Joe Brancatelli, but he, too, believes this one might go smoother thanks to all the planning.
“That said, I'd do as much as you can in advance,” said Brancatelli, “Get your boarding pass online. Get to the airport inordinately early. And make sure you have printed out receipts of your ticket.”
And in case things do go south, says George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com, “Remember that that if your flight is canceled you can get a full refund, even on a so called non- refundable fare.”