We booked four tickets with United Airlines to London in July 2013. When I told someone at work that we'd made the commitment to purchase our tickets and had gotten our confirmation number, etc., he told me that we should check our reservations every week or so because United has been having trouble with their computer systems and that reservations often get cancelled. Does anyone know what's up with that? How concerned should I be?
I have had this happen, but it was a matter of short flights being consolidated and not computer failure. you should definitely log into United's site with your PNRs (reservation numbers) and sign up for flight alerts. airlines do change schedules (may be minutes, may be hours) and you need to know this. You might also be able to pick seats. You can also add your passport info to the reservation. As you get closer, you might want to check every couple of days and then daily.
That is overkill and creating needless worry. Never done it and the probability of any change is beyond some schedule adjustments. Make sure United has your email and I would check quarterly between now and then and then the week before. I have had times changed but never cancelled.
We had the time of a United flight change once, by about 30 minutes. That's all. You do need to be alert for changes particularly if you have a tight connection, but they will email you when something changes.
Don't rely on them to notify you. When I did a routine check a few weeks ago I discovered that they had done a schedule change that had my new connecting flight leaving before the arrival of the first flight. The didn't notify me and it took several hours - mostly on hold - to get it resolved and that necessitated changing days of departure. Who knows what would have happened if I had not checked far enough in advance that good seats were still available. The few minutes it takes to check periodically is worth the peace of mind.
As others noted: Cancelled, no, but have had several schedule changes before leaving. For instance, I have a PNR for this September, and I've had three schedule changes on it since I made the reservation. I did NOT receive an email notification for any of these, and I am signed up for flight alerts. United usually makes these changes over the weekend, so if you check your reservation each Monday you should be fine. For me, the week before takeoff I check it everyday. Ounce of prevention in my eyes. As suggested above, I would sign up for flight alerts, ideally as texts to whatever mobile device you are carrying with you. Last September the morning of our departure, I checked online to see if my flight home from Brussels was on time, and all was good on United's website. Thirty minutes later, as I was heading out the door of our B&B to head to the airport, I received a text that our flight was cancelled. Knowing this, I was able to get on the phone while on the train to the airport and get rescheduled on another flight out the same day (which was itself delayed four hours and almost didn't take off due to the crew almost timing out, but that's another story!) However, there were many, many people who had been scheduled on that same cancelled flight who only found out when they arrived to check in, and they were scrambling to find seats home. No fun! To answer what you have heard about United's computer system (the dreaded-by-some SHARES system): They did have a large amount of problems when they integrated United and Continental's computer systems on 03/03/12, but things have gotten better. There are still hiccups, but not as bad as what was going on last Spring. So, at this point, I don't believe you need to be any more concerned about United than with any other carrier.
When Continental took over United, they moved to Continental's cheaper, older computer system. It was/is a disaster. For the most part, no, they don't lose reservations, but there is enough stuff that gets mucked up that it is a good idea to "babysit" your reservation with them. This is one of the biggest peeves that regular flyers have with United at the moment. The worst stories usually involve some third party airline (like, Air China, for example) where something changes and suddenly that leg disappears from your itinerary. It is rare, but it has happened. If you are only flying United (which sounds likely, given your destination), then there is less of a risk.
Last spring I had a reservation with United for a non-stop flight SFO-LHR. A couple of months before flight time I received an email from United that my reservation had been changed to a stopover in Washington, DC (IAD) with a 44 min connection. The first flight left the gate two hours late, so I missed my connection. Long, long wait at "customer service." Horrible. I finally got vouchers for taxi and hotel. I arrived at my hotel in Arlington at 1:30am and had a reservation for a 9:30am flight out of IAD. That plane left three hours late and arrived in LHR after midnight. My hotel reservation was for Bath, so could not get there that night. I paid a bunch for an airport hotel and finally got to Bath a day late. I paid twice for the same night and considered ending my relationship with United. (I hope they are reading this!) I have a FF flight with United this spring. I check regularly for flight changes. However, if they change my schedule too late, I will have limited choices for any changes. I suppose if a flight isn't full enough a couple of months before flight time, United just reschedules everybody for another flight.
Okay, thank you everybody. It sounds like we will be okay with United as long as we don't rely on them to notify us but check things out for ourselves on a regular basis. Forward to the fun stuff!
Many years ago when we first started traveling, I learned the good lesson of always checking on any flight changes. We arrived at the airport 2 hours before the flight was to leave and the United agent said the flight was boarding at the moment! It took me half of the flight over to calm down about thinking "what if we hadn't arrived when we did". We were meeting family at Heathrow to fly on together from there. Now I always check ahead of time.
We flew United to Paris in September and I checked our itinerary every week. They changed planes on us 3 times, without any notification, so we lost our selected seats each time and had to choose new ones. Not a big deal at all, but we wanted to sit together so I was very vigilant. Definitely check your itinerary once a week, and then daily when your departure is a couple weeks away.
I'd recommend checking every week or two. I booked our flights using United miles last May for our April trip and so far, United changed aircraft (needed to re seats), changed times (no big deal), and two weeks ago discovered the Lufthansa leg from Munich to Florence had been cancelled off the reservation. I called United, and found out Lufthansa had cancelled the last flight of the evening to Florence. The earlier you catch these changes, the more options there are available. I called United and was able to have them rebook us on acceptable flights.
When I read your post, I recalled hearing something about a big computer problem at United a month or so ago........so I Googled "United Airlines system problem." It appears the last major problem was in November..system-wide shutdown (which is what I recalled hearing on the national news). During the acquisition of Continental and leading up to that early last year, it was total hell (nice way of putting it), but I think they appear to be working thru it all, and hopefully a better, stronger airline will emerge. That said, it seems all airlines are guilty of surprising folks with changed times, redirected connections, equipment changes (different type plane than originally planned that then messes up those wonderful seat selections), so check monthly prior to when you leave, then weekly starting in June, then daily (seriously) the week or two before you leave. When my sister checked her flight a month or so of their departure on American, she was shocked her connections were changed to require an overnight in a connecting city....as she said to the rep, "when was the airline planning to tell me about this?" Happy no-surprises travels. Say hello to William and Kate for us :)
Thank you everybody. I appreciate your help!