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Problems in Air Canada’s reservation system may not be fixed for months

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Problems with Air Canada’s reservation system, which have frustrated myriad customers of the airline, may not be fixed until May, The Logic has learned.

The airline rolled out its new Passenger Service System (PSS) in November 2019, just before the holiday travel season. Designed by Spanish firm Amadeus, it was meant to streamline Air Canada’s reservation process, allow the airline to communicate with the systems of its partner airlines in the Star Alliance group and otherwise improve the travel experience of its more than 50 million passengers annually. 

Yet the system, known as Altéa, has been beset by problems, including the inability to change bookings and redeem Aeroplan points online. The airline’s call centres have been overloaded as a result, with some passengers waiting up to six hours to speak with an agent.

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Talking Point

Air Canada’s new reservation system has been plagued with problems since its November 2019 rollout, with many customers unable to change their reservations or redeem their points, often spending hours on hold as a result. The problems, which the airline called “temporary,” may not be fixed until May, The Logic has learned.

There have been nearly 2,200 complaints lodged against the Montreal-based carrier since the establishment of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations in July. When asked about the problems with the reservation system at a Montreal press event last week, CEO Calin Rovinescu walked away from reporters. 

Air Canada has promised to fix the problems as quickly as possible. But according to correspondence from a senior airline source, obtained by The Logic, doing so will take several months. The problem, reads the email, is the massive switchover from Res III, the decades-old legacy system the airline had been using. The change required system training for over 7,000 of Air Canada’s roughly 30,000 personnel, according to the company’s 2018 annual report. Though Altéa was meant to replace Res III in the manner of a “heart and lung transplant,” as Rovinescu put it in a memo last summer, the system today remains a pastiche of old and new. 

The company said the glitches haven’t affected flight operations. “We have added staffing, revised processes and taken other technical steps to better serve customers, and we thank our customers for their patience. We have not provided a timeline,” said Pascale Dery, Air Canada’s media relations director for Quebec and Eastern Canada, in a statement to The Logic.

According to an August memo obtained by travel site The Beat, the transition to Altéa was to happen in three steps, of which the first—transferring more than three million passenger records to the new system—was scheduled for Nov. 18, 2019. After that, the company planned to change over its airport control systems, airport by airport, and fine-tune its direct booking system and the system that connects it with industry service providers like travel agents. “The importance and benefits of this two-year project cannot be overstated, neither can its complexity to implement,” said Rovinescu during Air Canada’s third-quarter results call last October. Once implemented, the new system was expected to provide the company $100 million annually in incremental benefits.

Air Canada was at first reluctant to adopt the Amadeus platform to replace Res III. In 2013, Keith Wallis, at the time the company’s business development manager, said Amadeus’s offerings, as well as those of competitor Sabre, weren’t sufficiently flexible for the airline’s needs.

The airline changed its tune by 2017, when it announced the partnership with Amadeus in what one Air Canada executive called “the evolution of what has been a long, successful and strategic partnership.” The Spanish company controlled 45 per cent of the global PSS market as of 2017.

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Yet its North American expansion hasn’t been without its kinks. Southwest Airlines, which began rolling out its US$500-million upgrade to Altéa in 2014, experienced similar technical issues with the product. Amadeus did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

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