Preparing for the upcoming United Airlines system conversion

In a little more than two weeks, United Airlines will switch reservations systems from Apollo to Shares, merging all itineraries from Continental and United onto one platform. Other carriers who recently made similar technology shifts were plagued with problems when they flipped the switch, but United is hoping to avoid similar embarrassments.

United’s CEO Jeff Smisek was quoted last week in a Chicago Tribune article as saying, “We’ve had four full-scale dress rehearsals, all the data transfers, and everything is appropriate. We are exceedingly well prepared for it.” Nothing but assurances would flow from the mouth of a CEO, of course, so we’ll all just have to wait and see what manifests come March 3.

When Shares was announced as the system winning out in the merger back in December 2010, one United source mentioned it was the best customer and employee alternative, and its ability to handle migration “in a reasonable amount of time” was key. Having worked on both Apollo and Shares at my previous travel industry positions, I can tell you Apollo far exceeds Shares in its flexibility and ability to handle complex itinerary and ticketing functions, but as the United source mentioned, Shares won out in part because it is the quickest short-term solution. I also know for a fact it’s far cheaper than Apollo. By 2017 – long after any merger pangs – I predict United will abandon Shares for a more flexible and robust GDS.

When Virgin America switched to a new reservations system last year, it suffered website and airport kiosk issues for weeks. US Airways had similar glitches in 2007 when it merged with America West Airlines, causing airport delays and the inability to check-in online. So, while we might see similar issues once United makes the change, I’m taking a simple step to ensure I have all my reservation data in-hand.

For all of my Continental and United reservations post-March, I have printed copies of not only the itinerary, but the e-ticket receipts showing the ticket numbers – probably the most critical data element should things really go awry and backup is needed. I’d encourage everyone to do the same as it might just make your airport experience a little smoother in the coming weeks.



  1. Did you work in Apollo and Shares directly or in UI skins on them? The two systems are really quite similar at their base levels; most of the differences are in the UI skins and other bits that their customers (i.e. airlines) have laid on top of the base platforms.

    And let us not forget that a number of airlines have made transitions of this nature with total mayhem and chaos raining down from above.

    Oh, and the intention of moving to a new, common-platform GDS with other *A partners is hardly a well kept secret. But that platform isn’t ready yet and the company had to combine the two they started with well before that time comes.

  2. I always have hard copies, usually I wait until right before the trip so that any upgrades that cleared are reflected, but I’ll probably print out my late March/early April itins tonight. It will be interesting to see how smoothly the changeover will go.

  3. Excellent advice, which I will be following tonight. I only have 1 trip booked post March, but it’s a biggie…. and better yet, one-way on UA, booked on, and return on LH, booked on on CO ticket stock. That’ll convert well, I’m sure. 🙂

  4. While printing is a fine idea, ticket numbers are in the email receipts sent by the carriers after purchase. So, if there is a problem at the airport, just search on your record locator and pull up the receipt (with ticket numbers) in about two seconds.

  5. @AAdvantage Geek: You’re correct. United owned Apollo, American, Sabre, etc., until the government decided it was a no-no.
    @Seth: I worked in Apollo directly at United and Shares, as well, at a travel wholesaler. Perhaps I’m a bit jaded because I had total Apollo access vs. an agency “sine” for Shares.
    @Kris: I have always printed them, too, before my flights. Now, though, I’ll do it prior to 3/3/12 for those that fall afterwards.
    @Marshall Jackson: I’m in the same boat… have a SQ reservation that I’m a bit nervous about.
    @Mark: Good point… it might still be easier, though, to hand over a piece of paper to a befuddled agent trying to find your reservation.

  6. Let us hope it all works fine. On a more optimistic note, this is not really switching to a brand new system; it is more like drastically expanding an existing system. As such, if there are problems they are more likely to be with existing United (as opposed to Continental) reservations being migrated across, rather than with bookings made after the event.

    Having said that, I would not care to be in the middle of an itinerary on that change-over date, particularly if there are mechanical issues or diversions causing changes on the fly….

  7. @NB: Exactly… I fear more for the Apollo-booked United reservations migrating over to Shares. My Singapore Airlines award ticket really concerns me.

  8. I hate to make requests but I would be interested to learn what the rationale was behind not allowing the airlines to own their own systems…

    • @aeronathan: Airlines ended up biasing themselves in their respectively owned GDSs, so travel agency subscribers would see, for example, American Airlines first when searching for availability in Sabre, United Airlines in Apollo, etc. It was anti-competitive, so airlines were “forced” to divest their interest in the GDSs they created after a DOJ investigation.

  9. This is completely false. I worked there on Apollo for 38 years. Only reason for sell off was for United to make some quick money. Government just made regulations that the the systems had to be un-biased.

  10. @DeWayne: Thanks for the insight. I truly thought I had read years ago about a DOJ investigation that ended up being the main reason for the airlines divesting themselves. My apologies.

  11. @Darren – Little more info. Richard Farris was involved in the sell off of 49.9% of Apollo to Covia Partnership in 1988. Farris had attempted to break the Pilot’s Union and there was a strike and then management went into a sell off of assets including Apollo which was not necessary. Following is some info from Wkipedia – “Between 1970 and 1988 UAL, Inc. would acquire and operate the Westin and Hilton hotel chains and the Hertz Corporation car rental company, as well as a regional airline, a reservations network, and several leasing and insurance companies. On April 30, 1987, UAL, Inc. changed its name to Allegis Corporation. Many Wall Street analysts however believed that Allegis’ profitable subsidiaries were worth more individually than the parent company’s stock price indicated. Reacting on this sentiment, just weeks after the company changed its name, a group led by United Airlines employees moved to acquire ownership. However, the group was unable to acquire the needed financing and Allegis’ management sold its non-airline subsidiaries. On May 26, 1988, Allegis changed its name to UAL Corporation, with United Air Lines, Inc. as its only major subsidiary.[4]”

    Info on Western International Hotels from Wkepedia – “In 1970, the chain was acquired by UAL Corporation. In 1987, UAL Chairman Richard Ferris announced a plan to make UAL into Allegis, a travel conglomerate based around United Airlines, Hertz Rent a Car, Hilton Hotels, and Westin and linked by Apollo. This strategy failed, however, and Westin was sold in 1988 to Aoki Corporation of Japan. ”

    And here is a link to the LA Times for an article about the sell off.


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