JetBlue hopes for few blips in reservation switch

Traveling on JetBlue this weekend could get messy.

The airline is transferring to a new reservation system. Passengers will be unable to check flight status, check in at jetblue.com or make changes to an existing itinerary online for 24 hours beginning at noon on Friday. They also won’t be able to book travel at all.

In addition to those inconveniences, JetBlue is warnings of longer lines at airports and is urging passengers to arrive early.

For JetBlue, the biggest concern is ensuring a smooth transition and avoiding any customer service nightmare.

The airline says it is ready for potential delays and slip-ups after preparing two years for the switch. However, other airlines have attempted to switch reservation systems in recent years with less-than-stellar results, including widespread delays, baggage problems and help center backups.

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To help prevent delays, JetBlue recommends travelers arrive at the airport early on Friday, Saturday and Sunday — two hours before a domestic flight and three hours for international trips.

The company has removed 56 flights from the weekend schedule. Remaining flights will only be 30 to 60 percent full over the weekend — another move to ease stress at the airports.

The airline, which is based in New York, said it chose one of the slowest travel weekends of the year to make the switch. Fewer people book flights on the weekends, JetBlue said, so the shutdown will affect fewer passengers.

During the transition time, part of the old system will stay active at airports for customer check-in and boarding. Spokesman Mateo Lleras said passengers won’t likely see any change “except for slightly longer lines.”

JetBlue said additional staff will be on-hand at the airport helping customers. If a customer does miss their flight due to long check-in times, the airline said it will rebook the customer on the next available flight.

Along with its 1,800 reservation agents based out of their homes in the Salt Lake City, Utah area, JetBlue has 500 additional agents who could take calls if JetBlue’s customer service number is overwhelmed.

JetBlue says the new system will help boost revenue. For instance, JetBlue can partner with other airlines that share the new system and more easily promote extras like its “Even More Legroom” option during the booking process. This allows customers to sit in a roomier seat for a charge.

JetBlue won’t divulge how much the changeover is costing.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, JetBlue’s Vice President of Reservations Frankie Littleford said the company has done its best to avoid other airlines’ mistakes. But nerves at such a big moment are sometimes unavoidable.

JetBlue doesn’t want an experience similar to Canadian airline WestJet, which had abundant flight delays when it switched to a new system. Callers waited more than an hour to speak with customer service representatives.

And of course JetBlue hopes to avoid anything like the public relations debacle it experienced in 2007, when a Northeast snowstorm crippled its network and left 130,000 passengers stranded or delayed.

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