Travel Industry

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!
November 1, 2013
Airline Reservation Systems History 101

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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