vfw614 From Germany, joined exactly 12 years ago today! , 3767 posts, RR: 5 Posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 15312 times:
The question came across my mind the other day - how did airlines co-ordinate bookings/reservations before the arrival of computers? Did they have a large "data room" somewhere as their "holy grail" with filing cabinets organized by days and flights where bookings were entered manually on a sheet for each flight?
I cannot really think of a decentralized system without computers, so were travel agents or airport offices always forced to call the "holy grail" before making a booking?
BMI727 From United States of America, joined Feb 2009, 15069 posts, RR: 26 Reply 1, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 15277 times:
Quoting vfw614 (Thread starter): The question came across my mind the other day - how did airlines co-ordinate bookings/reservations before the arrival of computers?
With great difficulty. I believe it was call centers with physical cards for each flight that would be marked as they were booked up.
For this reason airline reservations were a major early business use of computing technology and American began looking into the use of computers to handle reservations in the early 1950s, although SABRE did not go online until 1960.
Why do Aerospace Engineering students have to turn things in on time?
flyingalex From Germany, joined Jul 2010, 1013 posts, RR: 0 Reply 6, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 15034 times:
Quoting COSPN (Reply 3):
Ticket prices were much higher, than today.. only Business travlers and "the Rich" flew on Airlines in those days..normal people drove of took the Train or Bus
Fares were not only much higher, but often there was just one fare for a given route, regardless of when you booked. Since there was no financial advantage to booking ahead, often enough people would just come to the airport, buy their ticket, and get on the next flight.
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clydenairways From Ireland, joined Jan 2007, 1141 posts, RR: 0 Reply 7, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 14920 times:
Telex would have been widely used back in those days, but also remember that passenger volumes were a fraction of what they are today so they managed ok.
I remember telex still being used in the 1980's.
Telex messaging is still used for lots of information. For example cargo booking lists, passenger lists, ULD-planning messages etc. The system works perfectly, the infrastructure is there since ages and some stations simply do not have a stable internet-infrastructure. I can't imagine todays' aviation without telex.
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neutrino From Singapore, joined May 2012, 530 posts, RR: 0 Reply 10, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 6 hours ago) and read 14597 times:
My first commercial flight was in 1979 and my flying from then till the late eighties were few and far in between.
I do remember going physically to the tour company for my bookings.
The agent would make phone calls (presumably to the relevant airlines or a big consolidator) to get what I need while I wait for anything from a few minutes to an hour.
Once confirmed, I paid in full and was told to return either a few hours later or the next day to pick up my tickets.
I believe the airlines then do have computers but not the agents; hence the phone calls.
Later down the years, the agent would have a small ticket stock of the regular airlines they deal with and would to able to issue the tickets on the spot upon a phone confirmatio.
type-rated From United States of America, joined Sep 1999, 4723 posts, RR: 20 Reply 11, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 5 hours ago) and read 14522 times:
In the 1940's most reservations were made & held by the originating city office, usually behind the ticket counter. If you wanted a round trip your agent had to call the destination station to request space for your return trip. Once the dates & flights were confirmed your ticket would be issued. Then the agent would call you back and tell you that your tickets were ready to pick up.
It could be a few hours or days depending on how busy the agents were.
The Telex system made it much faster to get a reply from the destination station. This system eventually evolved into a CRO or central reservations office and instead of making reservations at the stations they all would call in/Telex res requests from the CRO and could get both reservations at once for a round trip. Then when computerized reservations became available they eventually made it down to the stations and everyone could make their own reservations via their own terminal.
Remember that during this time each flight had only 20-30 seats or so to sell and there were less flights than today.
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quiet1 From Thailand, joined Apr 2010, 326 posts, RR: 0 Reply 12, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 5 hours ago) and read 14495 times:
An amusing anecdote from a friend who was a reservations agent with an airline with a relatively small operation in HNL. They kept a large board at the front of the room with small cards held with magnets to indicate which flights were available in/out of HNL, which were full. It was visible to all the agents in the room.
One day a carpet layer was installing a new carpet and after moving the furniture out of the room (and reservations went on a small break) he set up a roll of carpet at the back of the room and just gave it a push to unroll it toward the front. The whoosh of air that occurred as the carpet unrolled blew all the cards off the board in the front of the room!
My friend said it took a frantic couple days of calls with headquarters to try to piece together the availability for the next year's flights that had been "whooshed" off the front wall.
Richcandy From France, joined Aug 2001, 710 posts, RR: 0 Reply 13, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 14192 times:
Maybe not totally the same thing but in the late 1970's I remember by parents booking a package holiday with a tour operator. As my dad was a friend of someone who worked there, we went to the office.
There was a chart for both the outbound and inbound flights. The chart simply had the date and route across the top and then listed down the side were the numbers of seats they had something like 1-100. When a passenger booked his or her name was just written in with a pencil next to a number. They started at 100 and worked backwards, so they could easily see how many seats they had left to sell. Accommodation was done in the same sort of way and there was a record card with all the details.
If a travel agent wanted to make a booking they just telephoned the tour operator and made the reservation that way.
kellmark From United States of America, joined Dec 2000, 678 posts, RR: 8 Reply 14, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 13926 times:
I worked in airline reservations in 1968. The system was in the middle of a transformation from the old manual system to the "PNR" Passenger Name Record system that was enabled by the IBM 360 computer. But the manual system basically characterized flights into different categories. It used the "free sale" concept. Certain flights were "free to "sell", and you had a list of those flights. For an online flight on that list, bookings could be made for up to seven seats. You filled out a card with the passenger info and put it on a conveyer belt to the office where the info was compiled. Some offices used the vacuum tube system, putting the cards into a tube and sending them to the other office. If a flight was not on the list, you had to call and see if space was available. For interline flights it could work similarly, but you were limited to 4 seats for "free sale" and of course you had to call the other airline if this was not available. When there were interline flights, and we needed to quote a correct fare, we would call a specialized "fare desk" to get the information.
Computers were used for certain flights as the system came on line. It was done region by region, with different reservations offices in each region.
Another tool that was commonly used back then was microfilm. All of the Official Airline Guide and internal airline fares and scheduling information, etc was filmed and made available in a viewer next to each agent. It was much better than having to look things up in the paper books. But it was not a computer. And the computers that we used were the green screen dumb terminals attached to the main frame.
The average smart phone today is much more powerful than the computers we had available back then for reservations.
factsonly From Montserrat, joined Aug 2012, 577 posts, RR: 0 Reply 15, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 13880 times:
Yes, most airlines had a central reservation office with lots of filing cabinets, phones and telexes, flights were booked by hand on a seat to seat basis.
But...in addition many flights operated multiple segments (XXX-AAA-BBB-EEE-KKK-LLL). In order to overcome the nightmare of all the seats being sold between the different city-pairs on the same flight (XXX-AAA, XXX-KKK, AAA-LLL, BBB-KKK, etc, etc..., the airlines gave seat allocations to each station down the route to sell by themselves. So stations knew they could sell Y number of seats to KKK, and S number of seats to LLL without a need to contact HQ. They just needed to send all names and trevel details for a certain flight to HQ at a set time prior to departure. This way the stations only needed to contact Central Reservations when their allotment of seats was sold out, in order to request additional seats over and above their standard allocation.
Next issue is actual seat assignments on board. How did stations know which seats were empty, and how could they allocate seats prior to boarding?
Well, on several airlines one of the cabin crew members would be responsible for the seat plan for the entire flight. So on boarding at station XXX, stickers would be used on pax. boarding cards. These stickers were lifted from a sheet displaying the aircraft's seat plan. The crew member would physically carry this plan to the next station and disembark first, in order to proceed to the boarding gate for the next flight sector. There the cabin crew member would allocate available seat stickers and stick them on pax. boarding passes issued at check-in for the next sector. After the boarding process was completed, the cabin crew member would join the flight again to the next station, where the process was repeated once again.
Yes, those were the days of manual labour and lots of staff with lots of tasks!! Hence the cost of flying back then!
You wanted to get to the line as soon as the gate opened to pick the best seats. Much like WN before the block seating was done.
Quoting vfw614 (Reply 5): So technically you would only submit a reservation request and it would take a day or so before you or your travel agent would get a confirmation?
Or was it possible to call the reservation centre and someone would speed off to the filing cabinet for the requested flight, check availability and confirm it on the spot?
I don't remember people actually talking directly to the airline, except at airports and at airline downtown offices - which were really focused travel agencies.
Yes, you submitted a request. You waited for a confirmed reservation. You got a paper ticket. Depending upon the flight and your proximity to the origin airport - that could be a few minutes, or could be a couple days.
I've had hand written tickets, and printed tickets.
Every confirmed ticket I got had a copy of the confirmation Telex attached because I lived 60 miles from the closest commercial airport.
Sometimes if you knew the flight well, you could just show up at the airport and buy a ticket.
I flew military standby a bit in the 70s, and never had a flight where I couldn't get seat, though at times I took the last seat available.
I remember flying DAL-SAN on a sideways seat on the couch in the first class lounge of an AA B707.
knope2001 From United States of America, joined May 2005, 2644 posts, RR: 30 Reply 18, posted (9 months 4 weeks 1 day ago) and read 13347 times:
Funny that the seat assignment question came up, because I was just wondering the same thing myself.
Of course many of us who are 35+ may remember the old sticky tab days like the Wien card listed above. Generally you'd stand in line at the gate, and as they assigned seats they'd peel off the sticker and afix it to your ticket jacket. But I have a few other questions people might know answers to.
(1) When did assigned seating become common among major carriers, and where there big periods when some did and some did not? Or perhaps did some airlines have differing policies, where their first-class flights were assigned but their tourist-class flights were all open seating?
(2) Were second-tier airlines (in the US that's local-service airlines like Ozark, Allegheny, etc) also uniform in when they started seat assignments? Did they all have assigne seats eventually? (I know that third-level, commuter, and regionals came much later, with some always being open seating.)
(3) In the era of sticky-tab seat assignments, how were thru passengers handled? When a flight operated CLE-ORD-SEA (for example) would ORD have to wait for the plane to arrive to get a physical card showing what seats were already taken by thru passengerS? If so, seat assignments could not begin until after the plane arrived.
Those sticky-tab seat assignments definitely went many years into the widebody era, and though average loads were in the 40s, 50's and 60's in those years, flights definitely did sell out sometimes. I can hardly imagine not being able to give seat assignments to 200 people until the plane arrived with a thru-passenger record. But times were different....
a3xx900 From Germany, joined Jan 2004, 335 posts, RR: 0 Reply 19, posted (9 months 4 weeks 23 hours ago) and read 13084 times:
How long in advance did you have to book, or send your request? What was the cut-off time before a flight for reservations through an agent? I understand you could book at the airport directly an hour or so before your flight?
Stapleton From United States of America, joined Nov 2006, 276 posts, RR: 2 Reply 20, posted (9 months 4 weeks 23 hours ago) and read 13019 times:
I had a time back in 1991 in Honolulu when power went out on the entire island and we had to do everything manually. Luckily my airline (Northwest) still had some old stick-tabs for the 747 and DC-10s and we also had a policy to print up the seat assignments for every flight the day before. We hand wrote all the boarding passes and used the sticky-tabs to give them their pre-assigned seats. Anyone without a pre-assigned seat was assigned at the gate. The MSP 747 was oversold and it worked pretty good. All our flights went out less than 20 minutes late while almost all the other airlines had delays of an hour or more and chaos at the gates. It was one of those times where it was nice not being the most technologically advanced airline. We also had to board 747's and DC-10s down the jetway, down the jetway steps, walk around the wing and then up airstairs in the rear of the aircraft. What a day. Lasted about 8 hours if I remember correctly.
As for reservations in the 50's, my mom did that for the old "Frontier" and yes, it was note cards for each flight and teletypes.
flightsimer From United States of America, joined Aug 2009, 494 posts, RR: 1 Reply 23, posted (9 months 4 weeks 23 hours ago) and read 13029 times:
In this American Airlines DC-7 Video, which is good to watch all the parts of, it very briefly showed and explained it at the begining. Somebody here might be able to explain exactly what the mentioned machine is better though.
Goldenshield, you lucky dawg. I wish I had been smart, and held onto one of the "old" CO sticker charts, and TI (Texas International). I love that old stuff.
I recall when we flew CO SAT-ABQ and back, that we had boarding passes with stickers from a seating chart on them. I loved sitting there at the ABQ gate, watching the agts pull the tabs off the chart on the wall behind them. And as previous posters have noted. In the early days, even the 70's flights were rarely full.
A line is evidence that other people exist.
25 rfields5421: They didn't have to wait for arrival. There was a wonderful thing called TELEX that allowed an origin station to transmit that data to the enroute st
26 Goldenshield: I just Googled it; it's not mine, but I'll happily take the credit.
27 a3xx900: Awesome video! Thank you so much! I was lolling at the "This is a pretty girl" comment
28 knope2001: Thanks for the information, and I get that they used Telex to transmit information. But... (1) When the agents were peeling off seat assignment stick
29 EASTERN747: I started as a ticket counter agent at DCA in June 1968. I graduated from the Univ. of Maryland (College Park) in the morning and I was on my way to M
30 PSAJet17: Actually NO. Ticket were written at the ticket counter and they also checked your bags. You had to go to the gate to get a boarding pass with a seat
31 AADC10: I read that the larger airlines used a large wheel with cards representing the seats reservations. The wheel was surrounded by telephone, telegraph or