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United-Continental computer hiccups affect some fliers

UPDATED 12:15 p.m. PT: Customers of United Airlines saw improved service on Sunday as the airline worked through technology glitches during its combination of the United and Continental Airlines reservation systems.

On Saturday, United adopted the reservation platform of the former Continental Airlines after the companies merged to form the world's largest airline, now known as United Airlines and owned by United Continental Holdings.

But after spending months preparing for the change — including training about 15,000 employees on the new software — United said on Sunday that technical issues had flared up at airports across the system, causing delays.

In particular, problems with the company's airport check-in kiosks meant customers had instead to line up to see service agents, spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said.

"We did have some issues with our kiosks and at times that slowed the check-in process," McCarthy said, adding that the airline's performance had improved by Sunday morning as the company installed upgrades to the kiosks.

About 75.5 percent of United's mainline flights were on time — arriving within 14 minutes of their scheduled slot — on Sunday morning, as were about 87.1 percent of its Express flights, according to McCarthy. "Employees are working hard to take care of our customers," she said.

Original story: In a final step of its merger, United-Continental on Saturday performed a massive procedure consolidating two IT systems into one, a process called a “cutover.” The transition has gone relatively smoothly, though some fliers have been affected by missed connections and late departures and arrivals.

Some travelers reported about their experiences on Twitter:

  • “Getting an upgrade on #United has never seemed less convenient or more expensive than it does now. Congratulations guys!,” tweeted @rogermud.
  • “Flying on #United or #Continental today? Arrive early as they’ve completely bungled the debut of their new check-in system. #mergerfail,” wrote @owasow.
  • “#United rolled out their new website today and it takes significantly longer to load,” @deanwampler tweeted.
  • “If you’re flying #United/#Continental today & have the option to check in curbside, do it! Reading horror stories but curbside was a breeze,” said @ericschmoldt.

In an e-mail to msnbc.com, United Airlines spokesperson Rahsaan Johnson said one system is now supporting the carrier. "The system conversion involves moving millions of reservations and re-establishing numerous communications links. The vast majority of this work is going well, and we are resolving technical issues that we are identifying during this process," he said.

“As a letter grade, I give them a B-,” said Joe Brancatelli, frequent flier and publisher of business-travel newsletter JoeSentMe. Most problems, he said, have been reported at pre-merger United hubs such as Dulles International in Washington and O'Hare International in Chicago. Former Continental hubs, he observed, have not had as many problems.

As for the delays at Dulles and O'Hare, Johnson said the airline is working "to speed up airport kiosks, which at times have slowed check-in," but added "most of our flights have either departed on time or within 30 minutes of the scheduled departure time.

As of 5 p.m. ET, United's on-time percentage for departures out of O'Hare was at 16 percent, according to Flightstats.com. Out of 83 tracked departures, one was canceled, 28 were delayed between 15 and 30 minutes, 20 delayed between 30 and 45 minutes and 21 were delayed more than 45 minutes. By comparison, American Airlines' on-time percentage out of O'Hare was 85 percent.

“Barring an absolute meltdown, the electronic side has gone as well as expected,” Brancatelli told msnbc.com. “In fairness, I don’t see the gigantic problems we’ve seen with other cutovers.”

Recent history is littered with cutovers that didn’t go quite as planned. Perhaps the most infamous snafu took place in 2007 when US Airways tried to integrate the systems of merger partner America West. The result? Out-of-order kiosks, long lines, flight delays and lots of inconvenienced and angry customers.

More recently, Virgin America and Cathay Pacific have suffered IT-migration meltdowns that impacted travelers’ ability to manage reservations, access mileage plan accounts or talk to a reservation agent.

As for United's cutover, “people haven’t lost a seat or not been upgraded, but it’s not running as smoothly as it should,” Brancatelli said, adding that problems will be fixed in the days ahead, but said the issue today is moving people through the system.

Continental's last flight, 1267, departed from Phoenix at 11:59 p.m. PST on Friday and arrived on-time in Cleveland as United 1267 on Saturday morning.

The airline will stop using Continental's "CO" code. That means no more Continental Airlines tickets, or flights — even though the Continental name is still painted on some planes.

If you’re traveling today, Brancatelli urges carrying on your luggage if you can, printing out everything, leaving for the airport early and allowing plenty of time, and if you’re not flying over the next few days, staying off United.com.

“Don’t obsess that all the miles you’ve rode haven’t caught up. They will. Today is about people traveling now,” he said.

United and Continental have gone to great lengths to lay the groundwork for a successful transition. Earlier this week, United's Johnson said the carriers conducted four dress rehearsals, successfully migrating the data from United’s Apollo-based system to Continental’s SHARES-based one.

“As in any dress rehearsal, we figured out potential issues that might arise, fixed them and developed procedures in case they arise again,” he said.

The last flight will mark the completion of the takeover of Continental by United. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Have you run into problems flying on United or Continental this weekend? Tell us on Facebook.

Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was included in this report.

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