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Airline Reservation Systems History 101

Ever wonder how the travel computer reservation systems came about? Who was the first to come up with the idea? Was there an airline involved? Are those reservation systems still used today? Though little thought of today, the airline reservation systems history helped mold how we travel. It may come in handy during a good trivia game too!

The beginning of the airline reservation system

In 1946, American Airlines installed the first automated booking system called the Electromechanical Reservisor (say that three times fast). Soon followed was the Magnetronic Reservisor, which included temporary storage based on a magnetic drum.  Seeing the success of this system, Sheraton Hotels and Goodyear started using it for inventory control. A serious flaw of the system was the need for human operators to do the actual lookups. Ticketing agents would have to call a booking office. Those operators would then contact a team operating the Reservisor and then read the results over the telephone. Agents could not directly query the system, creating a prolonged process.

In 1953, American Airlines’ CEO, C.R. Smith, met an IBM sales representative and invited him to see Reservisor system, to look for areas of improvement. From there, American Airlines and IBM began collaborating on an idea of an automated airline system. In 1959, the venture announced the Semi-Automatic Business Research Environment, commonly known as SABRE. The network was completed in 1964 and was the largest civil data processing system in the world.

Following suit, other airlines created their own systems. Delta Air Lines launched the Delta Automated Travel Account System (DATAS) in 1968. United Airlines and Trans World Airlines followed in 1971 with the Apollo Reservation System and Programmed Airline Reservation System (PARS), respectively.

Soon, travel agents began pushing for a system that would automate their side of the process. Fearful this would place too much power in the hands of agents, American Airlines executive Robert Crandall proposed creating an industry-wide computer reservation system to be a central clearing house for U.S. Travel. The other airlines said nothing, citing fear of antitrust prosecution.

Agents access the reservation systems

In 1976 United began offering its Apollo to travel agents. While it would not allow the agents to book tickets on United’s competitors, the convenience of having such a program proved indispensable.  SABRE, PARS, and DATAS were soon released to travel agents as well. Following deregulation in 1978, an efficient computer reservation system proved important. Frank Lorenzo purchased money-losing Eastern Air Lines to gain control of its own SystemOne computer reservation system.

In 1976, Videcom International with British Airways, British Caledonian, and CCL launched Travicom, the world’s first multi-access reservation system. Forty-nine international airlines subscribed to the system providing distribution to thousands of travel agents in the UK. It allowed agents and airlines to communicate via a common distribution language. The system went on to be replicated by Videcom in other areas of the world, including the United States.

In 1992 a consortium led by Air France and Lufthansa Airlines launched Amadeus, modeled after SystemOne. In 1990 Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, and Trans World Airlines formed Worldspan and in 1993 another consortium including British Airways, KLM, and United Airlines formed Galileo International, based on Apollo.

Christopherson Business Travel’s main global distribution reservation system is Worldspan, now owned by Travelport, along with Apollo and Galileo.

Looking for more information on the evolution of the travel industry? Read our overview of the travel industry

Source: Wikipedia – Computer reservation system

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Delta Air Lines to Sell “Economy Comfort” Through Travelport’s Travel Agent Reservation Systems

We applaud Delta for their recent decision to sell “Economy Comfort,” their premium Economy product which provides more leg room, through Travelport’s global distribution system (GDS).  The agreement will create Economy Comfort booking access later this year for travel agents who use their reservation systems. We, at Christopherson, currently use two of Travelport’s GDSs: Worldspan and Apollo.

This is an important step in the ongoing discussion between airlines and the GDSs, on how to distribute their ancillary products and services. Last year, I wrote a post about this very discussion titled “The Airline Ancillary Fee Conversation
Needs to be Redefined,” wherein I stated that, “Realistically we should only be talking about the GDS technology that is required at the time of booking.” This important announcement to sell Economy Comfort through Travelport supports that view. Thanks Delta!

“Customers today can purchase Economy Comfort directly with Delta at, through a Reservations agent or at the airport via a kiosk or ticket agent,” said Wayne Aaron, Vice President – Marketing Programs and Distribution Strategy at Delta. “Partnering with Travelport broadens the availability of this popular product to Travelport-affiliated travel agents. We are always willing to work with partners like Travelport who bring value to the distribution chain and can deliver our product on a cost-effective basis.”

Economy Comfort features three to four inches of additional leg room across Delta’s fleet of two-class aircraft. On long-haul international flights, the seats also have up to 50 percent more recline than standard economy class seats.

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Air Canada-Travelport GDS deal enables selling of optional services

Great news!  According to a Travel Weekly article, Travelport has signed a new GDS deal with Air Canada that includes a connection with the airline’s API (application programming interface).
The connection will enable travel agents who use the Galileo, Apollo and Worldspan GDSs to sell a range of Air Canada fares, plus optional services such as paid seat assignments, prepaid meals and lounge passes.
Travis Christ, Travelport GDS’s president of the Americas, called the integration of fares and optional products on a single GDS screen an “industry first.”
This is something the travel industry has been working on for a long time, and we are excited it is finally happening.