SHARES vs APOLLO an in-depth look

As a number of United fliers are aware, March 3nd marks the day when United and Continental move to a single Passenger Service System or PSS for short.  Over the last few months, there has been a lot of animosity, particularly from the legacy United fliers about how awful this will be.   But will it really be that awful or is this the general over sensationalism that the legacy UA fliers are so keen on projecting?

Let's start with a bit of a background.  Apollo started its life in the 1970s with United and over the years United owned it and maintained it.  At around the same time, Eastern Airlines launched a platform named SystemONE (which later evolved into current day SHARES).  Rumor has it that Frank Lorenzo explicitly bought Eastern for access to SystemONE to support Texas Air (later to become Continental).   In the early 90s, United chose to sell Apollo to divest itself of that part of the business.   In the same era, Continental also chose to sell off a good portion of SystemONE to EDS and Amadeus.

While both airlines chose to sell their platforms, the one key differentiator was that Continental leveraged a license for itself so that it wouldn't have to pay a third party to support its reservations systems.  Fast forward to the current day. Legacy United spends millions of dollars a year on Apollo, simply for maintenance. Any time a change needs to be done or a new feature implemented, United finds itself spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the most minor changes implemented since they don't own or control the platform.  Continental, on the other hand, has direct access to its platform and a staff of developers. In addition, the majority of its programs are developed outside the mainframe itself.  The intended result is to be more responsive to the evolving needs of the customer.  A great example of this is the Flight Information pages with upgrade lists, standby lists and seat maps, this feature was developed in a very short amount of time due to the lack of dependence on a third party and mainframe programming.

Having been in the data centers of a number of large airlines, I can say that their contents look like they belong in the Smithsonian and not supporting multi-billion dollar corporations.   As both Apollo and SHARES have their origins in the 70s, neither of them is anywhere near cutting-edge.  Legacy United does everything on Apollo, it is the central host for all functions.  On the flip side, Continental has gradually moved away from the mainframe model to its distributed model over the years reducing the number of functions that SHARES supports directly.

Over the years, United developed an application called FastAir that all the agents use.  This is nothing more than a front-end to Apollo.  FastAir can make a number of operations easier to perform, but it isn't the only way to do them.   United phone agents use a similar adaptation known as FastRes.

Continental took a similar approach with its agent front-ends, and the current model is known as EZR.  EZR was deployed to phone agents, but its airport adaptation was only rolled out to a handful of stations.  Those stations not using EZR are using the old text interface, more commonly referred to as "Green Screen".

If you speak with older United agents, a lot of them are excited about having Green Screen access again.  You see, while a front-end interface can make operations easier to perform, it also limits the things that can be done as there are so many more permutations of customer problems and solutions to them than the front end can directly support.  With raw access agents have a lot more flexibility and it's easier to force things through.  The skilled agents, in theory, know what they are doing and want the ability to force things through without too much of a challenge.

While a lot of folks will claim how easy FastAir is, I've also seen agents struggle with FastAir when attempting to perform more obscure operations. (On a side note, rumor has it that FastSHARES is being developed as a front end for SHARES.  There was hope it would be done before the merging of the systems, but that doesn't appear to be the case anymore.)

So what does this all mean to the traveler?  Each platform has it's positives and it's negatives.  Legacy United agents may have the biggest hurdle.   Being so used to FastAir and having to go to a Green Screen will be a challenge.  While you'll find the older agents will embrace it and run with it, the newer agents may be a bit more fearful.

One of the biggest complaints you will hear about SHARES is the challenges it poses during irregular operations.  Having experienced enough IRROPs and doing a bit of digging, I've learned that SHARES and EZR were very rarely the issue with rebooking during IRROPs.  One of the biggest issues has been Continental's long standing policy of avoiding rebooking on an alternate carrier in situations where reasonable reaccommodation wasn't possible.  (Coincidentally, this policy has not existed for quite some time, yet it's very ingrained in the agents so that ends up being the real issue.)  This is strictly policy and not a technology challenge.

From an electronic ticketing perspective, APOLLO definitely has the lead.  Ticketing on SHARES can be a bit problematic, particularly when having mixed-carriers on a single ticket.   When and if this will be fixed remains to be seen.  I've been bitten by it and it's not pleasant.

Additionally, one thing to keep in mind during IRROPs, SHARES cancels subsequent segments if one segment is missed.  So, as an example, say you have a flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco to Newark and your first flight is delayed.  You opt to just hop in a car and drive to Newark.  But unless that first segment is removed from the ticket, the rest of your ticket will be canceled when you miss that first flight.

To the contrary, there are things with APOLLO that have been restrictive over the years as well.  Some of the improvements the United flier will see are:

  • The ability to apply a SWU or CR-1 to a UA operated flight that was booked as a code-share.  This one always irked me with the prevalence of code-shares so I'm glad to see this won't be an issue much longer.
  • The ability to manage reservations on-line, even when booked over the phone.  Today, if a reservation is booked via the phone, will not let you modify it.
  • The ability to see Upgrade Waitlists and Standby Waitlists from the phone or computer.  No more rushing to the gate to see the monitors and find where you rank on the list.
  • The ability to see active seat maps on your phone or computer and to see if that seat next to you remains open.
  • Faster implementation of new features and services as United won't be at the mercy of a third party organization to do the work for them.
  • No need to cancel your check-in before an agent can make a change.  As a business traveler, this one was a bit challenging while running to the airport and attempting to make a change only to be told that it wasn't possible until I cancel my check-in.

In both systems, tickets are issued against reservations.   In SHARES, reservations must match tickets.  In APOLLO, an agent can change your reservation and issue you a boarding pass without reissuing the ticket.  While some think this is good thing, for most travelers it's bad.  I've seen a number of issues on United reservations where not reissuing the ticket caused issues when a traveler was attempting to fly the return portion.

Will the transition be a walk in the park?  Doubtful.  Whether it will be the end of the world, also doubtful.  In the end, there will be a bit of transition time as the legacy UA agents come up to speed.  But, had the choice been made to go with APOLLO, we'd have an entire set of CO agents who would need to learn a new system and the problem would be no different.


UA-NYC March 1, 2012 at 04:32 pm

I have yet to speak with a PMUA agent excited to work on a "green screen".

You ignored all the downsides of SHARES too: - Daily upgrade sweeps, vs. dynamic waitlisting previously with UA - Current inability to waitlist an upgrade instrument inside T-24 hours - The upgrade waitlist you can see online is the battlefield list, NOT the EUA list that runs up to T-30 minutes!!!

And while, in theory it's nice to be able to modify your own systems without having to pay a third party, how come Continental apparently didn't bother doing much over the years?

Fozz March 2, 2012 at 01:03 pm

@UA-NYC: Honestly, it's really the older agents that I've found to be excited to be able to have "green screen" access, but like anything, everyone is different.

As for your other comments, on the SHARES sides, upgrade are far more dynamic. I've had tickets that I book, they ticket and the upgrade clears as the ticket clears. Recently, CO did institute a dynamic upgrade system where upgrades can clear instantly, but as with all upgrades, you won't really see this on the low bucket fares.

The inability to waitlist with an instrument inside 24 hours is not a SHARES limitation, it is a policy decision. The policy used to be 72 hours, but was changed to a more reasonable 24 hours a few years ago.

While you are correct about the upgrade wait list, it is still more than we've ever had on the UA side, so i'm at a loss as to how it's not an improvement.

And your last comment I'm confused on, a lot has happened over the years on the Continental side. The EUA system has been redeveloped, the migration from Skyteam to Star Alliance was susbstantial and lets not forget the ability to reward any Star Alliance award on the website. United has been in Star Alliance for 17 years and only after the merger started introducing the ability to book certain partner awards on it's website.

Shares user March 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm

You nailed this report..nice to hear the truth.

uaco March 10, 2012 at 05:35 am

In many ways your all RIGHT and WRONG. Let me tell you as a person who over 32yrs has worked on various airlines computer system, the SHARES sucks!!! I was one who did not want to go from Apollo to Fast Air, BUT I will gladly have that than this 40yr old system that isn't updated, 1 thing at a time can only be done..which means the customers better give themselfs more time to checkin etc, and that awful green on black gives alot of people a BIG headache..So hopefully everyone is listening and the so call Fast Shares will take the best of both system!!! PLEASE! Also in the interm not to mention thats 1 reason why the New United wants customers to get use to using the Kiosks..not to mention our future as customer service agts will be LIMITED. GOOD LUCK TO ALL OF US!

Ex fastair user March 10, 2012 at 09:56 pm

From a Ex-FastAir user now switching to a 40 year old SHARES dinosaur is like going back in time. We were spoiled with Fast Air because of it's windows like interface. A good comparison would be when Windows 8 comes out it being a DOS interface only. During IRROPS I could move my line quickly. I could get a customer accommodated in less than two mins. With shares having to sync tkts, reissue everything, and mark segments and no additional manpower to relieve the extra work load my line will be long and painful. UA will need to learn to operate a better schedule in order to avoid IRROPS. If and when we see FastShares I will believe it.

ual agent March 11, 2012 at 11:48 pm

NO ONE in any hub is happy about this! Shares is antiquated, slow, ridiculous! We need to go back to Fastair immediately. This system may have worked for Continental, but it just does NOT work for United. We are not able to help our pax at all with this! Our poor pax are so upset and there is nothing we can do! The training was totally inadequate. The screens give you a headache. Fastair was easy, user friendly and you could really help pax quickly. This is horrible!

Fozz March 12, 2012 at 02:04 am

The reality is any amount of change is going to be challenging. So, yes, the pre-merger UA folks have a new learning curve. But had the opposite decision been made, we'd be hearing the same level of uproar from the ex-Cons.

Change is difficult and even if the UA had stuck with APOLLO, passengers would still be impacted as there would be a substantial learning curve issue on the ex-CO side.

And to @Ex fastair User, the syncing of tickets can actually be a good thing. It does help prevent the passenger from ticketing challenges when the number of coupons on the reroute does not match the original itinerary.

uaco March 15, 2012 at 04:33 am

Fozz you just dont get it! YES no matter what and whom has to learn theres always a training difficulty, BUT the x-con would of loved it adventually.. just like I did. THE BOTTOM LINE is that not only are the agents not happy, but the CUSTOMERS ARENT HAPPY and thats how we keep our jobs!!!

oldtimer March 16, 2012 at 04:37 am

I worked in Eastern Airlines in 1975, then Pan Am and now United when I got trained in Shares what a surprise to find the the same antiquated System One without ANY improvements in 40 years. I can't believe United choose Shares over Apollo they even lie to us saying that Shares was own by Continental. They may own some intellectual rights, but the IQ of Shares is RETARDED compared with Apollo.

SHARES SUCKS March 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm

No wonder the UA agents are complaining. This is what they have to work with:

tot March 21, 2012 at 02:35 pm

"Faster implementation of new features and services as United won't be at the mercy of a third party organization to do the work for them."

They still are not able to get my PQM/RDM/Lifetime miles correct! Upgraded flights are still posted as "ON" going into week 3 of the integration and no agents or MileagePlus can manually post my missing miles for me. Why on earth would an airline code "ON" for both award and upgraded flights? I doubt the above point you raised.

Denver 1K April 1, 2012 at 01:02 pm

I'm sorry, but you can't say "But had the opposite decision been made, we'd be hearing the same level of uproar from the ex-Cons." Why? Because 40% of the combined airline's frequent flyers are from CO. Dare I say, CO had fewer agents than UA and therefore, fewer agents and customers to complain. Further, the number of hubs (IAH/EWR and a medium hub CLE) compared to SFO/LAX/DEN/ORD/IAD.

Additionally, the CO folks would be learning a graphical UI that makes many routine tasks EASIER to do. Complain about making your job easier? Doubtful.

LH-COUA April 6, 2012 at 05:13 pm

I am a regular UA flyer and have personally experienced a lot of the issues mentioned here. But I think some of the posters here have missed the point. It doesn't matter if an APOLLO/FastAir-based system would have been better or easier for the staff to use. The decision is done and over with. Was the training for legacy UA staff wildly inadequate? Yes. Would it have been easier for a graphical interface to be deployed immediately? Yes. But it would have had to be built as a front end to SHARES, because that was the decision for legitimate business reasons. And a new interface, no matter how good in the long run, would have caused its own sort of drama. One crisis at a time.

As a passenger, I just would like the legacy CO and UA staffs to stop talking about each other in "us" and "them" language and stop whiny to the passengers about how hard this is. Yes, it is very, very hard right now. Does the direct deposit keep coming to your account? Yes? Then suck it up and struggle through it. We're only four weeks into this. It does impact the passengers, so they have to deal with it or lose their passenger base. Let's circle back six months from now and see where we stand. I'll still be flying UA. At least, if the staff don't get so rude that I can't deal with them... Sorry to be blunt, but at least we're all still employed. I know people who would love to have these troubles, and a paycheck with them.

FLYGURL777 June 11, 2012 at 04:07 am

The problem is not so much shares, its the old planes that break down and end up cancelling daily flights impacting staff and passengers. I've never, ever in all my years of working in the airline business seen an operation such as United. Fix your staff, fix the mechanics, fix the planes and maybe, just maybe you will become a great airline.

Beattiss Scatolakis February 17, 2013 at 09:33 pm

The SHARES system was never a part of the EAL System One architecture. SHARES was the core sales and reservations system for Continental Airlines. When Texas Air Corp. acquired Eastern Airlines and its assets, it acquired System System One was the operating umbrella under which Eastern ran its internal reservations system and its trademarked Global Distribution System. CO did not migtate to EAL System One. They remained on SHARES A which was their copy of the system now used by UAL/CAL. The System One core was sold to the Amadeus Group and is, to this day the core of the Amadeus Global Distribution System. There is a very big difference between the internal sales and reservations systems and their global distribution system cousins.

Troy Haliwell October 23, 2015 at 02:22 pm

I know this article is old in web terms. But I have to give you another perspective.

I worked for Continental Reservations in Houston. We used SystemOne in Reservations. I found it to be easy to do, and can still remember most of the commands we used.

SHARES was used in the airports. Nothing worse than getting bumped from a non rev flight and you go to use the ticket counter computer and it was totally alien to what you use in Reservations.

After I moved to Alaska Airlines, it was a much easier system--both Reservations and Airport agents used the same system.