Why We’ll Miss US Airways, and Why The Airline Plus “Hang Up Call Back” Were the Two Greatest Things In Travel

Yesterday I helped a work colleague with a cancelled flight. Their US Airways travel was cancelled, and leading up to the Labor Day weekend most options were sold out. US Airways said they couldn’t re-accommodate until this afternoon which meant missing an important family event. They said nothing was available on other airlines, either, and that they could only rebook on US Airways or American in any case.

Now, the flight was being operated by Republic Airways and the mechanical cancellation was ordered several hours in advance so I have a certain skepticism about the explanation. (But Republic’s issues aren’t feeding into the agent’s thinking most likely.)

What do you do under those circumstances? Hang Up, Call Back: The Four Most Important Words in Travel, and Maybe Even in Life

I rang up with my colleague on the line and asked for them to be put onto a United flight. When I gave them the United flight number and departure time, they plugged it into their system and saw availability. Then they put us on hold to make sure they could get the flight from United which was departing in about 3 hours.

They came back, having rebooked my colleague in paid first on United (they were upgraded on US Airways). I verified on the United website that the reservation was made, and tickets issued.

US Airways systems really aren’t very automated, and rules and procedures aren’t constraints as a result.

That was always ‘interesting’ booking award tickets. That’s gone now, since all awards are handled out of American AAdvantage and the American systems, and have been since March.

Back in the day though it meant:

  • No automatically-enforced routing restrictions. I might have seen or even booked flights between South American and the US via Australia with more than one stopover.

  • No autopricing of awards. Agents had to pick how much an award cost, which means they needed to understand what countries were in what regions. In most cases they didn’t actually look this up. The most common result is ‘South Asia’ awards like Thailand pricing at ‘North Asia’ prices.

  • Ability to make changes, even after departure of first segment, and ability to avoid change fees. Any change incurred fees under US Airways Dividend Miles rules and you weren’t ever supposed to be able to make a change after award travel started. But if you hung up and called back enough times… On the other hand it also meant that some agents thought any changes would mean cancelling an entire award and starting over.

But the US Airways system wasn’t just advantageous for awards. Personally I’ve always been a fan especially during irregular operations.

I’d rebook coach passengers in first class, if that’s what was available (even finding flights to request where only first was available). Or rebook on other airlines.

Of course American is draining down US Airways operations: flights October 17 onward are all being sold as American Airlines flights, and are being managed on the American Airlines platform.

This has several advantages, the biggest of which is that there will be no more codeshares — elites cannot upgrade American-coded US Airways flights or US Airways-coded American flights until check-in at the earliest.

Many elites won’t like the end of US Airways flights because folks below top tier will only have ‘unlimited complimentary upgrades’ on flights up to 500 miles. For longer flights they’ll use earned (and purchased) 500 mile upgrade certificates.

Starting October 17, all flights will be run off of the American systems. Very little customer data will be affected — frequent flyer accounts have already been moved over to AAdvantage, and so have pre-existing reservations on US Airways flights for October 17 and beyond.

But that’s the date that all agents will have to be working on the American platform that they aren’t as familiar with. They’ll be using Qik to keep things easy (it automates lots of functions, which isn’t great for getting agents to bend the rules unfortunately).

This will mean agents working on an unfamiliar platform, albeit with a GUI interface to make things easier, and and one that automates most of their functions so you’ll only be able to get what you’re supposed to get (and senior intervention will be required when the system doesn’t allow something it should).

There are still American agents working in native Sabre, albeit not most of them. Those American agents can do as they wish, and they’re a godsend. Eventually there’s a goal to limit even that group to a GUI interface, we’ll see how that goes. (I’m just grateful for the AAngels in the Austin Admirals Club and also at Washington National.)

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Any thoughts on what will happen with the companion certificate that came with the Barclays US airways MasterCard and expires 12/31/15?

  2. Re “American is draining down US Airways operations: flights October 17 onward are all being sold as American Airlines flights, and are being managed on the American Airlines platform” that will also mean that one can finally credit those flights to AS. Right now AA-marketed but US-operated flights can’t credit miles/segments to AS. This will be helpful to finally be able to do so.

  3. I won’t miss USAir’s unwillingness to check bags through to other Oneworld airlines when traveling on separate tickets.

  4. @Kat:

    Those companion certificates have been good for booking on AA (in addition to US) since some time around July 20th. I booked my Christmas vacation over a month ago using it (avoiding those blackout dates of course), and they saved me a bundle! If you’ve got the ones that travel must be completed by Dec 31 2015, do also note that the travel must be BOOKED BY Sep 30, 2015 — you’ve got 26 days to do this, I’d advise making use of them sooner rather than later.

  5. I should also add that those certificates can also now be used for AA operated flights before Oct 17th as well. Meeting services (it seems these certificates are now being handled by the same department that handle Business ExtrAA bookings and such) actually set up an AA reservation for me last month using them, but, I opted to instead use the certificate on the more expensive Christmas travel.

  6. We have an international trip departing from US on October 13 with a stopover departing from Helsinki on October 18, and a return to the US from CDG on November 3. Award ticket booked with Usairways miles on Usairways flights (and finnair). What should I anticipate with one leg that is before October 16 and two legs after? Who do I check in with?????

  7. Leaving New Orleans USAirways flights and Finnair across ocean from JFK …. From Helsinki will be on Finnair. Did have USAirways flights from CDG now I guess they will be American flights! Do I need 3 different confirmation numbers to check in with?

    One more question, when I check in my departure from MSY to CLT to JFK to HEL, even though I am on USAirways and Finnair, do I check in all the way thru USAirways?

  8. Flights after October 17 have already been migrated over to American, so you check in with American and should be able to get your American confirmation # (you will no longer use a US Airways confirmation number October 17 onward).

    For your departure you check in with US Airways all the way through.

  9. I wont miss US Airways and their appalling website, mean spirited staff and frugal issuing of ONE solitary/singular coupon to their International Business Class customers in their sorry lounges – really ONE drink !? Goodbye!

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