The Most Important Lesson From the Integration of American and US Airways

The Wall Street Journal ran an interview with Maya Leibman, American’s Chief Information Officer who was promoted to Executive Vice President this week.

Frequent flyers will recall her as the immediate past President of the AAdvantage program. She participated in the Travel Executive Summit after the Freddie Awards in 2011, did a Milepoint chat as well, and has commented on this blog.

If you need a way around the paywall to the article, just google “How American Airlines CIO Successfully Landed US Airways IT Integration”.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the separate, earlier move to combine AAdvantage and Dividend Miles frequent flyer programs; the drain down process of US Airways reservations prior to integration that began July 18; the test running US Airways flights on the American platform; and how October 17 began and the operational success combining the two carriers.

Nonetheless, Maya’s discussion of ‘scenario planning’ (mostly for problems that didn’t materialize) was interesting. As well that the process was managed off of a massive shared spreadsheet.

The playbook had all the tasks down the left-hand side– who was responsible for executing them and what time they were going to get executed and the status of that. As it got checked off, the colors on those changed and you could focus on the next set of tasks. We had conference calls every hour with all the command centers, where everybody reported in the status of their tasks.

And the most important takeaway of all: feed your IT staff.

Just make sure there’s a lot of food for people. We spared no expense on this project overall, but I just saw the bill for all the food we ate in those two weeks and it was the most shocking thing of the whole experience. It was absolutely worth it. There can never be too many Twizzlers or Red Bull for technical people.

Unmentioned in the piece is the work that actually lies ahead, because not all of the carrier’s systems are actually merged yet.

There will still be regional jets flying in legacy US Airways livery through the end of next year. Legacy US Airways crew will continue to wear their existing uniforms until both American and US Airways employees get new ones in the third quarter of 2016. Employee badges still have the US Airways logo on them.

But the major hurdles left are integrating union seniority lists — especially the pilots — and getting crew scheduling onto a single system.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There’s lots more to do, including integrating Operations and all that entails. Crew and personnel integration. Contracts with several groups, including iirc mechanics

  2. I will say this, the merging of HP and US was so fraught with problems, that I couldn’t think of any team in this industry with a better level of first hand knowledge of what could go wrong.

    It seems like they recognized this, planned accordingly, and reaped the benefits of experience.

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