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How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?  
User currently offlinevfw614 From Germany, joined Dec 2001, 4005 posts, RR: 5
Posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 11 hours ago) and read 16239 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?

60 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently offlineBMI727 From United States of America, joined Feb 2009, 15749 posts, RR: 27
Reply 1, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 10 hours ago) and read 16205 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?
User currently offlineCOSPN From Northern Mariana Islands, joined Oct 2001, 1621 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 10 hours ago) and read 16165 times:

Load factors back then were much less mabe 65% so there were lots of emply seats flying around..

lots of things were done by Telex and travel agents, and Telephone..there was also much more "interline" flights sometimes you would take 2 or 3 airlines to get to where you needed to go..

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


User currently offlineRIXrat From United States of America, joined Nov 2005, 789 posts, RR: 0
Reply 3, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 10 hours ago) and read 16138 times:

For those who have never heard of it, there was also an invention called Telex, which ensured electronic communications between stations. It worked, just like those hand-written paper tickets.

User currently offlinevfw614 From Germany, joined Dec 2001, 4005 posts, RR: 5
Reply 4, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 10 hours ago) and read 16046 times:

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?


User currently offlinejoacocifuentes From Argentina, joined Sep 2012, 122 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 10 hours ago) and read 16003 times:

Also imagine every office in the world had to call everyday to central office.-

User currently offlineflyingalex From Germany, joined Jul 2010, 1016 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 10 hours ago) and read 15961 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.



Public service announcement: "It's" = "it is". To indicate posession, write "its." Looks wrong, but it's correct grammar
User currently offlineclydenairways From Ireland, joined Jan 2007, 1234 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 9 hours ago) and read 15847 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.


User currently offlinemariner From New Zealand, joined Nov 2001, 25323 posts, RR: 85
Reply 8, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 9 hours ago) and read 15637 times:
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Quoting COSPN (Reply 3):
Load factors back then were much less mabe 65% so there were lots of emply seats flying around..

Where and when was that?

I started flying in the early 1950's - mostly from the UK to Africa and the Middle East, but also to Europe - and I don't remember many empty seats.

mariner



aeternum nauta
User currently offlineDALCE From Netherlands, joined Feb 2007, 1693 posts, RR: 7
Reply 9, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 8 hours ago) and read 15602 times:

Quoting clydenairways (Reply 9):
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.



flown on : F50,F70,CR1,CR2,CR9,E75,143,AR8,AR1,733,735,736,73G,738,753,744,319,320,321,333,AB6.
User currently offlineneutrino From Singapore, joined May 2012, 611 posts, RR: 0
Reply 10, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 8 hours ago) and read 15524 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.



Potestatem obscuri lateris nescitis
User currently offlinetype-rated From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 11, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 8 hours ago) and read 15450 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.


User currently offlinequiet1 From Thailand, joined Apr 2010, 357 posts, RR: 0
Reply 12, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 8 hours ago) and read 15422 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.


User currently offlineRichcandy From UK - England, joined Aug 2001, 725 posts, RR: 0
Reply 13, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 6 hours ago) and read 15119 times:

Hi

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.

Alex


User currently offlinekellmark From United States of America, joined Dec 2000, 693 posts, RR: 8
Reply 14, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 5 hours ago) and read 14853 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.


User currently offlinefactsonly From Montserrat, joined Aug 2012, 903 posts, RR: 0
Reply 15, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 5 hours ago) and read 14808 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!


User currently offlineGoldenshield From United States of America, joined Jan 2001, 6048 posts, RR: 14
Reply 16, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 14478 times:

Quoting factsonly (Reply 17):
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?

That was usually done day-of, by the ticket counter, using one of these things:




Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
User currently offlinerfields5421 From United States of America, joined Jul 2007, 7607 posts, RR: 32
Reply 17, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 14327 times:

Quoting Goldenshield (Reply 18):
using one of these things:

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.


User currently offlineknope2001 From United States of America, joined May 2005, 2919 posts, RR: 30
Reply 18, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 14274 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....

[Edited 2013-02-13 08:37:42]

User currently offlinea3xx900 From Germany, joined Jan 2004, 335 posts, RR: 0
Reply 19, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 14012 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?


Why is 10 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.
User currently offlineStapleton From United States of America, joined Nov 2006, 280 posts, RR: 2
Reply 20, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 13946 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.

[Edited 2013-02-13 09:52:42]

User currently offlinedavidho1985 From Hong Kong, joined Oct 2012, 359 posts, RR: 0
Reply 21, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 13908 times:
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Sound crazy.

Thx all for your input


User currently offlinePassedV1 From United States of America, joined Oct 2012, 221 posts, RR: 0
Reply 22, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 13836 times:

Quoting kellmark (Reply 16):
For an online flight on that list, bookings could be made for up to seven seats.

I'm guessing this is why Sabre shows availability up to 7!?


User currently onlineflightsimer From United States of America, joined Aug 2009, 560 posts, RR: 1
Reply 23, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 1 hour ago) and read 13957 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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4d-OFDs1hY

[Edited 2013-02-13 09:20:28]

[Edited 2013-02-13 09:21:11]


Commercial Pilot- SEL, MEL, Instrument
User currently offlineABQopsHP From United States of America, joined May 2006, 853 posts, RR: 3
Reply 24, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 5 days 1 hour ago) and read 13741 times:

Quoting Goldenshield (Reply 18):

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.

JD CRP



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 Post contains images Goldenshield : I just Googled it; it's not mine, but I'll happily take the credit.
27 Post contains images 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
32 Post contains images AM744 : Arrrgh. Unfortunately I do.
33 OzarkD9S : My Mom worked at Ozark reservations starting in 1967, and she remembers OZ had reservations on index cards in a shoebox!
34 Goldenshield : SkyWest used that same model from 1972 until they became a DLC carrier.
35 rfields5421 : When they put the seat assignment sticker on the boarding pass, they collected the paper ticket and noted the assigned seat on the ticket. Then it wo
36 Post contains images deltaflyertoo : Even though the thread is about reservations pre-computer, to add 2 cents from perspective as a young airline nerd in the 80s where airlines then had
37 canoecarrier : Or, if you requested the smoking section? I have no idea when airlines started segregating smoking passengers from non-smoking passengers, but presum
38 type-rated : I do hope someone someday does write a book about this. The aviation history of the 40's-70's is now fading fast. A lot of the people involved in thi
39 brilondon : Normal people did not travel like they do today. We would travel to the lake which would be a three or four hour car ride away and spend the summer v
40 EASTERN747 : Passengers on multi stop flights got their seats on the first segment. Down line seats were not assigned. There used to be a plastic sign in the seat
41 aklrno : I had one of those for a while, but then the company got smarter. If they made us use our own credit cards they didn't have to pay us for a few weeks
42 timz : No idea what load factors were around the world (tho we could look up the systemwide load factors for each IATA airline) but major US airlines are in
43 dadoftyler : I couldn't agree more! I started in res in July of 1978, and while it was relatively modern by then, I heard fascinating stories from some of the age
44 Viscount724 : CP Air still had a totally manual reservations system for a few months after the first 747-200s went into service in late 1973. CP's first CRS was imp
45 Post contains links divemaster08 : here is another video back in 1968 from BEA which shows the reservations going on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7RMlluY0sA This one uses the "modern
46 eta unknown : Uganda Airlines Kampala city ticket office 1990: One clipboard on wall for each flight Pieces of paper on each clipbord with 50 lines (50 seats on Fok
47 Post contains links and images czbbflier : Before Wardair Canada went to System One in 1989, we in Ottawa (YOW) would do a seat-split for WD106 YYZ-YOW-LGW. We did it in Ottawa because we only
48 dstc47 : Amazing memories of so much I had forgotten. The telex machine was so much a part of international business generally until first the fax in the late
49 n729pa : I've got some Iran Air 747SP and 707 charts like this, which I'm guessing they must have used at LHR around 76-78 era.
50 BMI727 : Just to expand a bit, the large seating charts were used at the check in counter and outfitted with stickers. When passengers would check in, they wo
51 vfw614 : Fascinating stuff guys, didn't expect so many of you sharing so much detailed information when I started the thread. Thanks to all that have contribut
52 pnwtraveler : I remember when I was on a class trip to YVR as a kid in the 60's, being one of only a few kids who put their hands up when the AC agent asked how man
53 Post contains links and images lightsaber : I recall 65% was about the level passengers complained! Did you find it? Really? That's facinating. In the US, load factors were quite low most fligh
54 PSAJet17 : As I already mentioned in my earlier reply, at Delta SAN the seat chart and stickers were NOT at the ticket counter. That is why there was a gate age
55 EASTERN747 : Before the days when there was no FF and upgrades, there was a little secret going on at the gate. Since the flight was booked by full fares we knew h
56 lightsaber : I was talking at LAX. I remember the line of ladies at the counter trading stickers and chatting at me when I was a curious child and putting the sti
57 Post contains links and images knope2001 : If you look at some of the airilne annual reports from the pre-deregulation era on http://departedflights.com/ you'll see how common an annual system
58 rfields5421 : Thank you gentlemen for detailed and precise information. It's easy to forget in today's computer age how things had to be done, and how well it work
59 lightsaber : That I have no doubt. Except we flew on typically slow days (e.g., Saturday). So a 65% full flight was something to talk about! As a child, I usually
60 swabrian : I worked the gates and ticket counter for Delta in OAK from 1977 to 1979 and In PDX during the early 80s until we got computerized seat assignment. We
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