US Airways has said legacy systems were partly to blame for a glitch in its self-service kiosk system that led to long queues and delayed flights earlier this month.
The glitch was tied to the integration of reservation systems with America West Airlines. US Airways was using a system from Sabre Airline Solutions, while America West was using Electronic Data Systems' Shared Airline Reservations System (Shares). The two airlines, which merged in 2005, are now operating on the Shares system.
In an email, Travis Christ, US Airways’ vice-president, sales and marketing, told the airlines frequent fliers: "When we transferred the 7 million reservations from one system to the other, approximately 1.5 million of them didn't 'sync up' correctly, and our agents had to hand-process each reservation.
"Many systems that were otherwise ready to go became bogged down with these reservations. We've since whittled the number of 'out of sync' reservations to a very small number."
He explained that most airline computer systems were built on legacy mainframe systems from the 1960s and 1970s. These systems were deeply embedded in reservations, flight operations, airport operations and accounting applications.
"They are very reliable, but very inflexible. As our business changes, it's as though we're fighting with one hand tied behind our back," he said in the e-mail to customers told the frequent fliers.
In the interview, Christ said these legacy systems were revolutionary at the time they were built, replacing reservations held on a card index. Then came air-travel software systems such as Sabre, which coincided with the deregulation of the airline industry and the rapid growth of the business.
But as more modern web-based systems were introduced and the level of expectations of the technology changed from a business to a customer perspective, it became clear the legacy systems were nearing the end of their useful lives, he added.
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