It’s all hands on deck at Virgin Australia this weekend as the airline switches over to a new checkin and booking system.
This means some disruption for travellers due to fly on Saturday January 12 and Sunday January 13, although Virgin Australia expects all flights will operate as scheduled.
However, Virgin Australia spokeswoman Danielle Keighery says there’s always room for life to throw a curve ball.
“We may face challenges from external factors such as bad weather” she admits, “especially in the changeover period of Sunday morning.”
But even with clear blue skies travellers are cautioned to expect delays at the checkin desks, with online checkin unavailable and staff switching over to the new Sabre computer system.
Sabre will replace both the Navitaire package used for domestic flights since the airline launched as Virgin Blue in 2000, and the Amadeus platform which runs Virgin’s international flights.
“Things might take a little bit longer but we’ll have a lot of extra staff (on hand)” Keighery promises, citing a 30% boost to support staff at airports and call centres this weekend.
Your checkin options for Virgin Australia flights during the Sabre switch-over
Virgin Australia will open online checkin for Saturday’s flights a full 36 hours prior to departure instead of the standard 24 hours.
At 2am Saturday the online booking engine will go offline, leaving airport checkin as the only option for flights on Saturday and Sunday (nor will you be able to change flights, Virgin Australia says).
So if you’re flying with Virgin Australia on Sunday, expect longer than usual lines and don’t forget to pack some patience in your carry-on bag.
Virgin Australia is suggesting that passengers flying this weekend arrive at the airport 60 minutes before departure for domestic flights and three hours prior to departure for international flights.
And while online and mobile checkin is slated to come back online on Monday January 14, the airline suggests adopting those extra-early arrival times for all Virgin Australia flights through to next Sunday January 20 as the new system is fully bedded down.
Velocity also going offline
Virgin Australia will begin to switch its Velocity Frequent Flyer programme over to Sabre on Wednesday, with travellers unable to use the Velocity website from 10.30pm Wednesday through to Sunday evening.
The new Sabre-powered Velocity will return on Monday along with Virgin's online booking and checkin system.
So why the switch?
Such a daunting and potentially problematic change, one which almost tempts fate, is not being undertaken on a whim – and nor is it because Virgin Australia will finally be able to ditch its domestic DJ airline code for the more obvious VA moniker.
Virgin Australia’s current Navitaire software is intended as a relatively simple “end-to-end” system and is typically favoured by low-cost airlines such as the original Virgin Blue model, which has far less complex needs than Virgin Australia has today.
The more sophisticated Sabre will not only streamline operations within Virgin Australia but improve the booking and travel experience with other partner airlines such as Virgin America (which already uses Sabre), Etihad (which will also switch to Sabre in February) and Singapore Airlines.
For example, Virgin Australia will now be able to check bags and issue boarding passes for connecting flights on codeshare airlines, such as if you’re flying Virgin Australia to Los Angeles and then Virgin America to Seattle.
This eliminates the need to queue a second time at LAX and can also let you book connecting flights with shorter transit times.
Benefits for frequent flyers
Virgin Australia says that Sabre’s superior integration with other airlines will also make it easier to book travel on partner airlines using frequent flyer points, and have your frequent flyer status carry through on the booking so that partner airlines can immediately recognise perks such as lounge access.
This will include the ability to book a frequent flyer reward ticket on a journey with more than two legs, such as Adelaide- Sydney, Sydney-LAX and then LAX-Seattle.
But that won’t happen right away explains Andrew Lillyman, Virgin Australia’s General Manager for Next Generation Systems.
“This will be available from a limited amount of ports to begin with” Lillyman tells Australian Business Traveller, but it will hinge on partner airlines tying their own systems into Virgin’s Sabre implementation.
“We’ll roll out that online capability progressively for those partners.”
Other treats for travellers will include the ability to join a waitlist for fully-booked business class flights, and selecting your seat as soon as you book your flight, right up to 331 days out from the date of travel.
Another side benefit: you'll be able to earn frequent flyer points and status credits for individual flight sectors on a multi-flight trip, rather than treating the overall distance travelled as if it were a single flight.
For example, flying Hobart-Melbourne-Perth currently earns 40 status credits because Virgin calculates the distance between Hobart and Perth. Under Sabre, this same trip would earn 60 status credits because each flight is counted separately – you'll earn 20 status credits for Hobart to Melbourne and then 40 more for Melbourne to Perth.
And as Australian Business Traveller reported yesterday, Virgin Australia will also be able to offer status credits on all reward seats.
As for this weekend’s switch-over, Lillyman says it will in fact be a rolling upgrade rather than a Flicking Of The Switch.
Navitaire and Sabre will run side by side on Sunday, with the first flights of the day operating on Navitaire as per usual.
From “around Sunday lunch-time we’ll will start to open flights on Sabre” Lillyman says, so that by the end of Sunday Virgin Australia will have fully swung over to Sabre.
However, by keeping Navitare running in parallel, the airline can immediately switch back to using the older software for flights should any Sabre-centric hiccups arise.
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