Traveler beware: United’s big “cutover” starts this weekend

If you are flying United Airlines this weekend or in coming weeks, it’s time to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. That’s because this weekend United will undertake one of the toughest parts of its integration process with Continental: The Cutover.

In the wee hours of the early morning on Saturday, March 3, Continental’s reservations system and frequent flyer program will combine with United’s, and both will switch to a new electronic platform.

While everyone hopes everything will go smoothly during the transition, history has not been kind to airlines undertaking such major changes. Remember when Virgin America cut over  to a new system last fall…. resulting in massive mix ups, lost upgrades, inability to manipulate online reservations or check in, and hours (and hours) spent on hold?  Keep in mind that Virgin America is teensy tiny compared to United, which is now the world’s largest airline. On the other hand, when Delta and Northwest cut over in 2010, the process proceeded smoothly.

Things could go swimmingly, or things could go horribly wrong…very wrong. The best advice for now is to plan ahead. Get to the airport early. Print hard copies of your itinerary, boarding passes, upgrade confirmations, etc and be sure you have “record locator numbers” handy at all times.

Also, keep an eye out on frequent flyer bulletin boards such as Milepoint or FlyerTalk- both of which have published the following missive from United. If problems develop, you’ll hear about them first on these sites- from either United or its frequent travelers. You can also expect to see plenty of action on United’s twitter page @United.

If you are traveling on United or Continental this weekend, good luck! If you encounter any problems or issues…or even if you find smooth sailing, leave your comments below to let fellow travelers know what to expect.

Here’s what United is saying as of Thursday evening, March 1:

Hi Everyone, as you know, we are making final preparations to migrate our two airlines into one reservation platform (Passenger Service System, or PSS) on March 3rd. There are a lot of changes coming on this day – we’re going to have a single loyalty program, a single set of policies and a single system.

This master thread will hopefully serve as a singular resource for:

Answering your questions about the conversion. There are already many threads with questions about this change. We posted some initial tips last week, and there’s more to come. We will do our best to keep track of your questions and answer them here.

Keeping you updated before during and after. Starting tomorrow, we will be here 24/7 through the weekend and will be tracking issues that you report. Specific examples of issues are appreciated, and you’re welcome to post them here or send them to us via PM.

What to know in advance

We won’t be able to serve you online or over the phone for a couple hours. Specifically, starting at 1 a.m. U.S. Central Time, online check-in, united.com, our mobile applications and our contact centers will not be available for approximately 3 to 4 hours.

Some capabilities will not resume immediately. As we begin to bring systems back online, updates to some features may still be in progress and not immediately available. We’ve started a list of known items below.

Tips if you’re traveling March 3rd. If you are unable to print your boarding pass in advance, or if you have bags to check, please allow extra time at the airport. Also, all flights that were scheduled to operate as Continental Airlines (CO) will be operating as United Airlines (UA) so, be sure to check united.com (once we’re back up) or monitors at the airport for correct terminal and gate information.

MileagePlus Account Experiences

Combined balances may not display right away. If you check your MileagePlus account balance right away, you may find that your 11-digit and 8-character account balances do not display your combined balance (even if you’ve linked your accounts) right away. The process of combining balances will begin once our systems come back online and we’ll process these by status. Many accounts will be combined in the first couple days. If you log in and find your account balance has not been combined, the action of logging in will trigger the process which should then complete within a day or two.

Worth noting: If you would like to book award travel before your full mileage balance displays, you can reserve your flights on united.com and choose to hold your itinerary free for up to 72 hours with our FareLock option.

Most, but not all, profile information will be carried forward from the former united.com. For those of you who have credit card information stored in your united.com profile, this data will not be migrated to the new platform for security reasons. When you log into your account for the first time, please confirm your profile details, email subscriptions and Flight Status Notification options.

Status for Million Miler companions will not be updated until mid-March. Status for Million Miler companions that were designated on the subsidiary United system, will take up to two weeks to reflect. Once the status is updated, new credentials will be mailed to the member.

As always, thank you for your feedback and support as we take this important step toward becoming United.

Shannon Kelly
Director, Customer Insights
United Airlines