Sunday, March 4, 2012

Voice of the (Sophisticated) Customer - United and FlyerTalk

On March 3rd, the new United Airlines (combined as United and Continental) migrated all flight bookings stored in the old United Apollo reservation system to the Continental reservation system called SHARES.  This type of system 'cutover' is often described as performing a heart and lung transplant while the patient is running a marathon.  Having recently experienced this similar event late last year at another airline, I watched with interest over this past weekend how the cutover was progressing.

There were the usual expected issues associated with such a transition: long check-in lines, slightly delayed flights, and some people losing their seat assignments.  What I found particularly interesting was United's presence and interaction with customers on FlyerTalk, a website dedicated to the exchanging of information  by frequent travelers.

thread was dedicated specifically to the system cutover where "UA Insider" answered customer questions and provided detailed updates on issues.  In addition, this was a place where sophisticated, qualified customers provided detailed feedback on items that were and were not working.  Here, you had a highly engaged and knowledgeable audience helping to identify issues so they could be resolved, because they cared about the company.  Incredible!

Here is a screenshot with a list of issues and updates provided by United within the forum.

This feedback from the FlyerTalk community is invaluable and much more focused on specific issues than the generic, non specific comments which appeared on United's facebook and twitter feeds.  

Here is a screenshot from FlyerTalk on test feedback provided by loyal customers.
I would've liked to have seen more communication on United's own website on what was or wasn't working, rather than just the generic information.  Below was the update provided.

The vast majority of this work is going well, and we are resolving technical issues that we are identifying during this process.

However, I do appreciate this can be a PR tightrope and the more updates that are provided, the more negative attention may be drawn.  Using FlyerTalk was a way to remain engaged with their most loyal customers through a dedicated, targeted channel.  Thumbs up.

Cheryl Reynolds
College Girl to Working Girl


  1. Interesting viewpoints. I guess the issue with using a channel like FT is that most customers would not be aware of it. And also raises the question why the UA website was not functioning as the primary source of info.

    In any case, have to appreciate that this has been a major project for UA-CO.

  2. Agreed mr okko, this is certainly one the largest airline system cutovers that has ever taken place. I think the US media was waiting for the slightest sign of weakness to pounce on UA and it appears to be the reason for the lack of UA's complete transparency on status updates.

    I will watch with interest later this year when Virgin Australia (VA) and Virgin Blue (DJ) migrate from Amadeus and Open Skies respectively to Sabre.