American Airlines, US Airways cross fingers as they finalize merger

Nearly 24 hours from now, one of the best known names in the airline industry will disappear. US Airways and American Airlines will complete the final steps of their merger, creating the nation's biggest domestic carrier.

But one of the last hurdle remains - merging their two reservation systems into one. Despite a million hours of training, more than 9,000 tests of kiosks, and six full test runs for a smooth launch, folks flying over the weekend are crossing their fingers, reports CBS News correspondent Kris van Cleave.

The reservation system stores vital information, including flight schedules, pricing, the number of available seats, and baggage-tracing data.

The challenge with combining them is all existing US Airways's reservations have to become American reservations across two different systems, said Henry Harteveldt, founder of the Atmosphere Research Group who has worked on several airline mergers.

"This is like performing a ballet in front of a dictator who will chop your head off if it goes wrong. In that case, the dictator is us, the traveling public. If it goes wrong, passengers are going to be angry and American Airlines does not want to have angry passengers," said Harteveldt.

That is why American began planning months ago, first merging frequent flyer programs. The airline will have extra staff working Saturday for the main event.

The merger was problematic when US Airways and America West did it in 2005 and caused huge headaches for United and Continental in 2010.

According to CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg, a disruption is inevitable and the question is how much disruption there will be.

"The hope is that they are going to do it this weekend so they're going to catch whatever glitches they have so by the time the real hit comes on Monday, they'll be ready," said Greenberg.

For now, the plan is to make the switch, watch what happens, and be ready to do whatever they can to keep the joined operation running smoothly.

America has set up a command center that will be up and running 24 hours, 7 days a week for the next two weeks, to respond to any issues. Those who are flying this weekend -- particularly through the old US Airways hubs of Phoenix, Charlotte and Philadelphia -- are highly advised to print reservations in advance and check in ahead of time.