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United Airlines Faces Delays After Systems Merger

Following its merger with Continental Airlines, United Airlines integrated its system with its partner airline this Saturday — and was confronted with a sudden array of glitches.

The two airlines, under the United Continental (NYSE:UAL) banner, have gone through a months-long process of IT synthesis to ensure that their operations melded successfully, with a special focus on smoothly combining their reservation platforms. The companies also trained a select 15,000 employees on the new software in the months following the merger.

However, Reuters reports that their reservation systems were struck by an unusual amount of errors and inconsistencies, resulting in a high volume of flight delays across the country this weekend. Broad services problems including jammed phone lines, and in particular malfunctioning kiosks, resulted in an inordinately high number of late flights. Around 25% of all domestic mainline flights were delayed past 30 minutes of stated departure on Saturday; the same number of flights experienced landing delays above 15 minutes through Sunday morning.

Express flights experienced significantly less delays, with slightly less than 13% of United Express flights experiencing delays in the 24 hours following systems integration. By 2:30 p.m. Sunday, the number of domestic mainline flights experiencing significant delay dipped slightly below 17%. Nevertheless, system problems persist, with United spokesperson Megan McCarthy claiming that “Our IT department still continues to fine-tune our system.”

Call volume also remains unusually high, with customer discontent mounting around protracted difficulties consolidating the miles earned separately under the now-merged airlines. While the initial rash of broad IT problems seems to be gradually smoothing, traveler anxiety nevertheless persists — especially since airlines have closed customer help desks in lieu of opening a higher volume of kiosks.

United is not the first airline to encounter system-integration IT problems; US Airways Group (NYSE:LCC) experienced a particularly choppy transition when merging the reservation systems of the former America West Airlines and US Airways in 2007. However, Delta Air Lines‘ (NYSE:DAL) 2008 systems merger with Northwest Airlines was markedly smoother than those of its competitors.

– Adam Patterson, InvestorPlace Assistant Editor

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