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Joined: Sun Dec 10, 2000 4:08 am

How Did Airline Reservation Work Before Computers?

Wed Sep 04, 2002 6:37 am

In todays world of "real time," when a person reserves/ purchases a ticket and selects a seat, that seat becomes unavailable on airline computer systems worldwide instanteneously.

How did it work before computers? How did an airline keep up to date so as to not duplicate sales?
18 year airliners.net vet! 2000-2017
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Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2001 2:33 am

RE: How Did Airline Reservation Work Before Computers?

Wed Sep 04, 2002 7:04 am

BOAC had a big board in the main Res Hall in the 50s and early 60s giving details of all flight/dates available. This was before the "standard" realtime IBM ACP (Airline Control Program) came along around 1966.

If a seat was booked, the agent called a runner to go to the board and update the inventory for that flight manually. Allegedly the agents at the back of the hall used binoculars to see what seats what left available.
Also allegedly, if 2 seats were sold "simultaneously" and there was only 1 seat left, the seat went to the runner who got to the front of the hall first.

More info in a book called "From BOADICEA to BABS - The History of Computing at British Airways" by Brian Dolton. I've got it somewhere at work if you want me to dig it up?

And on the subject, you may be surprised to know that the majority of the mainframe airline programmers now working on TPF - the successor to ACP - still program in Assembler! Do a search for "TPF" on IBM's homepage if you're interested in the techy details.
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RE: How Did Airline Reservation Work Before Computers?

Wed Sep 04, 2002 7:56 am

Same at the former TAA. The reservations board was bigger than an IMAX screen. When seats were down to the last 4 (??) they had to be requested. The board was updated with large ladders and hooked sticks. But man, it looked SO impressive. There was no seat allocation - your seat number was written on your ticket as you checked in. A sticker was put on the front of the ticket with space for flight number and seat number for four sectors. It all worked very well.
"...every aircraft is subtly different.."

RE: How Did Airline Reservation Work Before Computers?

Wed Sep 04, 2002 9:52 am

At WestJet, we have a few ways of doing things, as a manual back-up, for when the computer systems occasionally "go down"... we can do manual boarding passes, and seats are done "festival" where basically we board people by check-in time, and then it's first come first serve on the plane, similar to how Southwest boards. There is also a sheet, which has the seat map of the plane on it, and each seat is a little sticker, and you can just peel off the ones you want to use, and affix them to boarding cards. One a sticker is gone, obviously no-one else can take that seat. Both systems work quite well, and don't require any technology really, just paper and pens. Then we do head counts, and match them against boarding card counts. Quite simple really.
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Joined: Sun Feb 27, 2000 4:49 am

RE: How Did Airline Reservation Work Before Computers?

Wed Sep 04, 2002 4:28 pm

Computerised booking systems have been in use since the mid 60's (possibly even earlier in some cases) so it's a long time since any major airlines have had to do things manually. Of course, in the 20's. 30's, 40's and 50's, the volume of people flying was tiny so manual systems could cope.

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