When Airline Mergers Attack (your reservation)

The American Airlines & U.S. Airways merger has reached the point where reservation systems are joining forces and it’s the perfect time to remind everyone that it’s never a good idea to assume your flight itinerary is safe and stable. Personally, I tend to make a habit of peeking in on my flight reservations every few weeks for trips that have been planned in advance just to see if better seats or flight times might have become available, and on Friday I was reminded why this is a practice that can help prevent a full-blown SNAFU from erupting in the middle of your vacation.

Back in January, I had noticed on aa.com that saver-level business class seats had opened up on quite a few of the U.S. Airways-operated flights from Europe during the window where I was looking to get us home. Up to this point I had figured we would end up redeeming far more miles for standard awards (which were clocking in between 110K-135K per seat) and so this was a very pleasant surprise. Suddenly we had routing options including Venice and Paris at our disposal at a much better rate! I grabbed us two seats from Paris with a connection in Charlotte, handed over 100,000 Advantage miles and about $260 in taxes, and did a little dance of glee as the ticketing confirmation e-mail AA whooshed into my inbox. Within a matter of days, all of the saver award seats I had seen vanished so I felt rather lucky that I had stumbled upon an opportunity to save some miles for a future adventure.

For the next five or six months, everything appeared fine. The itinerary was issued a U.S. Airways record locator and I used it to select our seats for the flights. I’d check in every now and then to see if the flight times had changed. They never did, but on Friday the flights themselves disappeared completely. The origin and destination were still in the record locator along with the travel date and an American Airlines record locator I had never seen before. This was feeling like a quest to get directions to an underground rave, with me running around to different map points in order to figure out where I was actually going. Back at aa.com, I was greeted by a different flight itinerary from Paris to Los Angeles routing us through Boston. The ticket status was in an ambiguous “unknown” state:

Now panic and freak out.

Now panic and freak out.

This is when I started to get nervous, mainly because American hadn’t sent me any communication at all about changes to my itinerary. The first thing I did was text that screen shot to a friend at AA who was planning to meet us in Paris since we were flying home on his birthday and he had yet to visit Paris himself. HIs response was:

“Yikes. Call them now. We’re in the midst of a reservation system cross-over. Call them, STAT.”

Now, discovering this at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon was not very convenient for me as I was still at work and had plenty of stuff I was trying to get done for a Monday product launch, but the good thing is that it only took the American Airlines agent about 45 minutes to fix. They just happened to be 45 of the most anxiety-laden minutes I’ve had to endure in a long time. First there was the agent’s initial response after looking into my problem: “Oh my goodness, what happened here? This doesn’t make any sense.” That then turned into “are you sure you booked this on aa.com?” (I had), then “please hold. I need to get some other people on the phone to help me fix this for you,” followed by “are you okay with us routing you through a different city to get you home?” (I was) and finally after that we had a reservation with a status of “ticket pending,” which is very much preferred to “unknown.”

Always always always peek in on your plane tickets, kids. Though most of them do try to sty on top of issues like this, airlines won’t always notify you when plans change and you’ll want to deal with problems like this before you start your travel. To American’s credit, they were able to solve this issue in under an hour and I was even informed I’d be receiving about $10 in refunded taxes. Sure it was a hassle and caused me to panic, but just imagine how stressful this would be to sort out at the airport in the middle of your vacation?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pore over every other travel reservation for our trip with an OCD-like attention to detail… just to be safe. I may also call my doctor and ask for a Xanax prescription.

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