ON A FLIGHT back from Mexico earlier this year, your correspondent witnessed at first hand the slow process of merging two giant airlines. As I waited for over an hour to check in for a United flight, the Continental desk next to the United check-in was almost totally empty, with two or three employees attending to a handful of customers. Eventually, we asked the Continental employees why they didn’t just start checking in United passengers. The two airlines were technically one entity in America, the Continental employees explained, but in Mexico the merger wasn’t complete, and the computer systems hadn’t been merged yet, either. Their computers wouldn’t let them check us in so we had to wait. (We made our flight.)
On Saturday, United and Continental finally merged their computerised reservation systems. The result, as Portfolio’s Joe Brancatelli explains, was fairly widespread chaos. Here’s his update from mid-afternoon eastern time on Saturday:
According to FlightStats.com, the pre-merger United part of the combined United Airlines has had 50 scheduled departures from its primary hub at Chicago/O’Hare. Only 8 (14 percent) left on time. One was cancelled, 15 were between 15 and 30 minutes late, 13 went out 30-45 minutes late and 14 were delayed by more than 45 minutes. By comparison, American Airlines has had 58 departures from O’Hare today. Five were cancelled (a testament to how poorly American has been running), but 90 percent of the rest departed on time.