vfw614
Topic Author
Posts: 3168
Joined: Mon Dec 10, 2001 12:34 am

How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:51 am

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
Posts: 11094
Joined: Mon Feb 02, 2009 9:29 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:15 am

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?
 
COSPN
Posts: 1535
Joined: Fri Oct 12, 2001 6:33 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:19 am

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
 
RIXrat
Posts: 670
Joined: Sun Nov 27, 2005 10:20 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:22 am

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.
 
vfw614
Topic Author
Posts: 3168
Joined: Mon Dec 10, 2001 12:34 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:38 am

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?
 
joacocifuentes
Posts: 125
Joined: Mon Sep 24, 2012 4:06 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:46 am

Also imagine every office in the world had to call everyday to central office.-
 
flyingalex
Posts: 623
Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 1:32 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:53 am

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
 
Clydenairways
Posts: 1099
Joined: Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:27 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:13 am

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 avatar
mariner
Posts: 18115
Joined: Fri Nov 23, 2001 7:29 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:02 am

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
 
DALCE
Posts: 1610
Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:45 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:07 am

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: F50,F70,CR1,CR2,CR9,E75,143,AR8,AR1,733,735,736,73G,738,753,744,77W,788,319,320,321,333,AB6.
 
User avatar
neutrino
Posts: 896
Joined: Thu May 10, 2012 5:33 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:27 am

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
 
Type-Rated
Posts: 3901
Joined: Sun Sep 19, 1999 5:18 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:49 am

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.
Fly North Central Airlines..The route of the Northliners!
 
quiet1
Posts: 282
Joined: Fri Apr 02, 2010 7:39 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:54 am

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
Posts: 619
Joined: Sun Aug 12, 2001 4:49 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:35 pm

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
 
kellmark
Posts: 542
Joined: Thu Dec 21, 2000 12:05 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:35 pm

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
Posts: 1995
Joined: Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:08 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:42 pm

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!
 
Goldenshield
Posts: 5005
Joined: Sun Jan 14, 2001 3:45 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:35 pm

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.
 
rfields5421
Posts: 5550
Joined: Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:45 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:23 pm

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 avatar
knope2001
Posts: 2245
Joined: Wed Jun 01, 2005 5:54 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:31 pm

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]
 
a3xx900
Posts: 392
Joined: Sun Jan 18, 2004 8:03 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:45 pm

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.
 
stapleton
Posts: 181
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:57 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:49 pm

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]
 
davidho1985
Posts: 373
Joined: Tue Oct 09, 2012 6:27 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:51 pm

Sound crazy.

Thx all for your input
 
Passedv1
Posts: 392
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2012 3:40 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:55 pm

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!?
 
flightsimer
Posts: 879
Joined: Mon Aug 17, 2009 5:34 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:18 pm

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
 
ABQopsHP
Posts: 461
Joined: Wed May 24, 2006 10:47 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:24 pm

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.
 
rfields5421
Posts: 5550
Joined: Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:45 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:25 pm

Quoting knope2001 (Reply 20):
(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.

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 station.

I flew the ATL-MGM-MEI-JAN-MLU-SHV-DAL flight a few times. On that flight we were told we could not change seats at the intermediate stops if someone got off because those seats were being assigned at those stations. So apparently a telex was sent from the origin airport to the en-route stops with a list of open seats for each station.

I flew from IND-MEM-SHV once and when I arrived at the IND airport, certain seats were not available on the sticky tab. It was another - you cannot chane seats flight. I was told that some of those seats were already taken by from the flight origin airport (CLE I think - the flight terminated at IAH). Other unavailable seats were blocked for assignment by MEM. SHV was going to fill empty seats.

I've flown DAL-TUS-SAN on AA, and the TUS pax were not assigned seats. We thru pax were allowed to choose any seat we wanted after the departing pax got off. I was told this was because the # of TUS-SAN pax was less than the number of DAL-TUS pax. Though the FA's did block out two rows (12 seats) for a tour group, asking one through pax to move, and made sure that two other 3 seat blocks were available for families.
 
Goldenshield
Posts: 5005
Joined: Sun Jan 14, 2001 3:45 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:46 pm

Quoting ABQopsHP (Reply 26):
Goldenshield, you lucky dawg.

I just Googled it; it's not mine, but I'll happily take the credit.   
Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
 
a3xx900
Posts: 392
Joined: Sun Jan 18, 2004 8:03 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:38 pm

Quoting flightsimer (Reply 25):
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

Awesome video! Thank you so much!
I was lolling at the "This is a pretty girl" comment  
Why is 10 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.
 
User avatar
knope2001
Posts: 2245
Joined: Wed Jun 01, 2005 5:54 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:43 pm

Quoting rfields5421 (Reply 27):

Quoting knope2001 (Reply 20):
(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.

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 station.

Thanks for the information, and I get that they used Telex to transmit information. But...

(1) When the agents were peeling off seat assignment stickers, how did they keep track of and communicate which ones were thru passengers going on to further legs? When they gave 5A to someone in Cleveland for that example CLE-ORD flight, was there a way they kept track to block off 5A for ORD-SEA as well if they were traveling as a thru from CLE to SEA? NW had an infamous flight which ran (if I recall correctly) FLL-MIA-ORD-MSP-FAR-BIS-BIL-GTF-GEG-SEA. Although I'm guessing very few people actually flew from FLL to SEA on that flight, it likely was a legitimate option for people traveling from south Florida to ND or MT. How did they keep track that 11A issued in FLL would be occupied on all legs until Billings, 11B was issued in FLL and would be occupied only to Chicago, 11C was issued in Miami and would be occupied until Bismark, etc? When Chicago closes up this flight, perhaps they can tell Minneapolis what seats ORD assigned for ORD-FAR, ORD-GTF thru passengers. But how would Chicago know that Fort Lauderdale already assigned 11A all the way to Billings?

(2) If ORD sent a telex to MSP on what passengers they knew of who were flying beyond MSP, did the gate agent then sit and peel all the thur pssenger tabs off of their seat assignment sheet?


It just seems like a logistical nightmare when it comes to thru passengers unless there's some crafty way to account for this I'm not aware of.. And they were a lot more common then than they are now.
 
eastern747
Posts: 578
Joined: Tue Oct 17, 2006 5:34 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:44 pm

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 MIA for training in the afternoon. (Not a damn day off) (I was also accepted by National and Delta) After MIA training, I was sent to IAD for more hands on training. There were no computers and all of the tickets were hand written. The most modern feature was a credit card looking piece of plastic that had one ways, roundtrips, Y/C, F/C, military, and excursions that were run on a credit card hand machine. (Look it up on google kids) When a person approached and didn't have a ticket I would call the reservation assigned to DCA, which was CLT.(Others included CHI, MIA, TPA,NYC, BOS, ATL, and later SLC and a few others I don't remember. The agent would answer and I would say...This is DCA34..looking for a smith flight 137 to ATL...or whatever. I would then wait and a confirmation would be given to me. I then proceeded to slap out a ticket. Now then, remember credit cards were a thing of the future so we dealt with CASH/Checks. Some business folks had travel cards which were the beginning of credit cards. If the reservation could not find the reservation, my next question was "Sir, when did make the reservation?Oh an hour ago! Ok next step was free sale and the statement, please confirm your return when you get to..... The worse part that flights were closed out at the counter 15 minutes before departure. "All passengers holding reservations on flight !@#, please step to the front of the line! Ouch..call reservations, write ticket, check bag, call bag room for last bags, call gate....Thank God I was 21 and learned to drink!!! Seat selection was the little tabs. Don't forget too there was smoking and non smoking.. Another chapter for my book!!!!!
 
PSAjet17
Posts: 368
Joined: Thu Dec 11, 2003 5:50 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:50 pm

Quoting Goldenshield (Reply 18):
That was usually done day-of, by the ticket counter, using one of these things:

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 assignment.

I did this for Delta in San Diego during the summer of 73. When a flight left SAN with intermediate stops, part of the departure messages that I also sent (via teletype; punch the tape and put it in the reader until your machine was polled) included a list of the through seats that I had assigned. Sometimes, when the first stop was LAX, I would often get a call from the LAX gate agent (who was also in the process of checking in passengers since we would start this 1 hour before departure) requesting that I block out certain seats for thru passengers since he was assigning them to someone boarding in LAX.

Pull the flight coupon, get a boarding pass for each passenger, ask them for their seating preference and select a seat, pulling the sticker and placing it on the boarding pass. Write the seat number on the ticket (making sure I did not write in the white section at the bottom). Put the ticket in one of the sorting slots (usually to separate each destination). Go on to the next passenger.

Count tickets just before departure (verify headcount), complete the weight and balance paperwork (we even had an adding maching in the podium at the gate). Take paperwork and current weather on board, hand it to the flight engineer. Close the L1 door and move the stairway from the plane. Walk the plane out during pushback...wait for all clear and salute the captain and watch her go. Then back inside to send JDT (jet departed terminal) message to flight control, count the tickets and sent through seats and connection (flights and number of connections) to the next station downline along with three other company operations messages..

Fun times.

(Delta did have DeltaMatic for reservations, however in SAN we only had a typewriter device to interact with the system. We could display a reservation (and print it out too), check availability, request special meals, etc. Sure went through a lot of rolls of paper. (usually a two ply roll with one copy staying intact and kept for station records and the top copy being ripped off the machine and either thrown away or given to the passenger.)
 
AADC10
Posts: 1507
Joined: Sat Nov 13, 2004 7:40 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:57 pm

I read that the larger airlines used a large wheel with cards representing the seats reservations. The wheel was surrounded by telephone, telegraph or telex operators that picked the cards off the wheel and then they were reconciled at the end of each day and stacked for each flight.

Errors of course happened frequently but since load factors were lower at the time, a few missed passengers could find a seat.
 
AM744
Posts: 1435
Joined: Thu Jun 07, 2001 11:05 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:04 pm

Quoting knope2001 (Reply 20):
Of course many of us who are 35+ may remember the old sticky tab days like the Wien card listed above.

Arrrgh. Unfortunately I do.   
 
User avatar
OzarkD9S
Posts: 4723
Joined: Tue Oct 23, 2001 2:31 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:41 pm

My Mom worked at Ozark reservations starting in 1967, and she remembers OZ had reservations on index cards in a shoebox!
Next up: STL-OAK-RNO-LAS-ICT-STL
 
Goldenshield
Posts: 5005
Joined: Sun Jan 14, 2001 3:45 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:49 pm

Quoting OzarkD9S (Reply 35):
My Mom worked at Ozark reservations starting in 1967, and she remembers OZ had reservations on index cards in a shoebox!

SkyWest used that same model from 1972 until they became a DLC carrier.
Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
 
rfields5421
Posts: 5550
Joined: Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:45 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:57 pm

Quoting knope2001 (Reply 30):
1) When the agents were peeling off seat assignment stickers, how did they keep track of and communicate which ones were thru passengers going on to further legs?

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 would simply be a matter of sorting the tickets before punching the Telex tape.

At least that was the way I remember it being done at the airports I flew out of.

Quoting knope2001 (Reply 30):
(2) If ORD sent a telex to MSP on what passengers they knew of who were flying beyond MSP, did the gate agent then sit and peel all the thur pssenger tabs off of their seat assignment sheet?

If you came in for a flight that was at a second, or third or later airport in an aircraft route - you would see several seats were pulled off the sticker sheet - indicating those seats were not available.

I've seen gate agents do that as part of their process of getting the gate ready to check in passengers and issue boarding passes.

Quoting PSAJet17 (Reply 32):
I would often get a call from the LAX gate agent (who was also in the process of checking in passengers since we would start this 1 hour before departure) requesting that I block out certain seats for thru passengers since he was assigning them to someone boarding in LAX.

I've seen the seat sticker cards with entire blocks of seats removed before we boarded. Saw that at IND on the IND-MEM-SHV flight I took. The agent told me it was because MEM would be putting their origin pax into those seats.

Quoting knope2001 (Reply 30):
It just seems like a logistical nightmare when it comes to thru passengers unless there's some crafty way to account for this I'm not aware of.. And they were a lot more common then than they are now.

Yes and no.

It was a lot more labor intensive than today. As the two folks above explain.

But it was also a regular procedure. The people I observed, talked to, knew the process, knew the route and the averages.

On a multi-leg aircraft trip with intermediate stops - the airline and the gate agents knew on average how many thru pax there would be at each station based on averages.

The stickers were a huge improvement over the older hand written seat list that have to be marked with a pen or pencil. If an agent got distracted - two people could easily be assigned to the same seat.

I saw this on my first B747 ride in 1973. There were so many people getting on the JAL bird at Guam that they were doing seat assignments by hand rather than stickers. I got my seat, but my traveling companion had someone else also assigned to her seat.

I've seen FAs on many flights in the 70s have to deal with two people assigned to the same seat.
 
deltaflyertoo
Posts: 1479
Joined: Tue Nov 14, 2000 3:18 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:24 pm

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 computers, but, the average customer did not (no internet or online booking). This meant you went to a travel agent OR called the 1 800 number.

Calling the 800 number was an experience in itself. As it was a major gateway for booking airlines back then totally branded those numbers. You were guaranteed a live person, but, not before hearing the airline's theme song and at times a voice over advertising new routes, a new aircraft type or service features. The sales reps were usually well mannered (as a lot of peeps called just to get a fare inquiries without booking). But if it moved to booking you had live drawn out conversation on what kind of plane you'd fly, what city you'd connect, the kind of meal service. I used to call on behalf o my dad who would travel a lot and "hold his seat" (he would then call back with credit card). But I remember vividly the chats I'd have with the reservations agents and how you could get sense of an airlines culture/branding based on the 10 minute phone call. Sadly those days are gone.  
 
canoecarrier
Posts: 2569
Joined: Sat Feb 14, 2004 1:20 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:48 pm

Quoting knope2001 (Reply 20):

(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?

Or, if you requested the smoking section? I have no idea when airlines started segregating smoking passengers from non-smoking passengers, but presumably there was a time where if you were a smoker you'd want to sit where it was allowed in the back of the plane.

Quoting flightsimer (Reply 25):
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.

The narrator's voice in that video sounds like someone from the Twilight Zone. What a production just to sell a seat.
The beatings will continue until morale improves
 
Type-Rated
Posts: 3901
Joined: Sun Sep 19, 1999 5:18 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:48 pm

Quoting EASTERN747 (Reply 31):
Another chapter for my book!!!!!

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 this are now in their 80's and may not be around that much longer. A lot of the smaller airlines of the 40's & 50's have already been forgotten.

I remember the seat sticky tabs as well. At ORD the agents usually had them on the upper portion of the agent desk at the gate. You usually pulled your own tab and handed it to the agent and then he'd stick it on your boarding pass. Eventually the ticket folder became the boarding pass with all the required information on it.

And of course let's not forget the tickets by mail program. You could have your tickets mailed to you and then pay for them when you arrived at the airport. Since the tickets were hand written, I wondered if they had a department of nothing but agents hand writing tickets all day.

And I also remember a few people having a bit of commotion at the ticket counter. It seemed the traveler called and made a reservation and the agent gave them a price. But they failed to ask the agent what the fare was for a family of five so they thought that the price given was for the whole family!

And I also remember the Universal Air Travel Card. Usually this was given to you by the company you worked for if you traveled a lot.
Fly North Central Airlines..The route of the Northliners!
 
brilondon
Posts: 3014
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2005 6:56 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:58 pm

Quoting COSPN (Reply 3):
..normal people drove of took the Train or Bus

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 vacation there, otherwise we would maybe go visit my uncle in Toronto or I would be sent to my grandparents farm while my parents would go away to say Niagara Falls for a vacation. I remember when I was in England back in 1980, we used a travel agent to book a vacation to Spain. Well, you would go to the travel agency which would be great as I, being the airline geek that I was, I would pick up all the airline timetables I could. I had quite a collection. We would get our tickets in the mail a couple of weeks before the trip or just pick them up from the travel agent just before you would leave. Then you would go to the airport and the check in counter would open about 3 hours before your flight and try to get there first to get the choice of seats that you could have.
Rush for ever; Yankees all the way!!
 
eastern747
Posts: 578
Joined: Tue Oct 17, 2006 5:34 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:19 pm

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 back pocket which read "OCCUPIED", because passengers were able to get off the plane on stops along the way..........
 
aklrno
Posts: 1164
Joined: Sat Dec 04, 2010 11:18 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:20 pm

Quoting brilondon (Reply 41):
And I also remember the Universal Air Travel Card. Usually this was given to you by the company you worked for if you traveled a lot.

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, but they had to pay the UATP bill sooner. We would file our travel claim after the trip, and the company paid us 2-3 weeks later. Since we didn't get our credit card bill right away and then had 3 more weeks to pay it, it didn't bother us that much as long as we had the credit limit to make it work.

Or at least it worked until they discovered that they could pay us in California with a check written on an obscure bank in Georgia and get several days more float. When the B of A started to hold those checks for payment there was a mini revolution.
 
timz
Posts: 6086
Joined: Fri Sep 17, 1999 7:43 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 12:11 am

Quoting mariner (Reply 10):
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?

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 Moody's. Suspect they averaged less than 65% as often as they averaged more.
 
dadoftyler
Posts: 245
Joined: Tue Dec 28, 1999 4:16 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 1:46 am

Quoting type-rated (Reply 40):
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 this are now in their 80's and may not be around that much longer. A lot of the smaller airlines of the 40's & 50's have already been forgotten.

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 agents that had been with the company for decades. I got to know a lot of the "senior mamas" and some of their stories about revenue passengers being assigned travel priorities during WW II, about African-Americans travelling during segregation, and about the eccentricities of travel during the early days of the airline industry stick with me to this day. It'd make a fantastic book!!!!

DoT
 
Viscount724
Posts: 18859
Joined: Thu Oct 12, 2006 7:32 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 4:57 am

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 implemented in early 1974, long after AC had automated their reservations function.. I worked in CP's YVR reservations office then, the largest in the system. There were other reservations offices then in Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, and at overseas destinations.

The YVR office covered most of an entire floor in a downtown YVR office tower. One side of the office dealt with incoming customer calls and had rows of reservations positions all facing the same direction, each facing a large binder containing fare information etc. The entire walls above a raised platform at the front and along one side of that part of the office were covered with rows of squares with each row representing one flight number and numbered columns representing the dates for a full month, like a big spreadsheet on a blackboard. Each square had a hook at the top and there were a dozen or so different cardboard symbols (circles, squares etc.) in various colors, and some with stripes through them. When one of those symbols was hung from the hook where the flight and date intersected it indicated that some restriction applied. For example, one symbol indicated that F class could only be waitlisted but Y class could be confirmed, and another was the opposite. Other symbols indicated that the entire flight could only be waitlisted. On multi-stop flights other symbols indicated that shorthaul sectors between intermediate points had to be waitlisted but longhaul through bookings could be confirmed. And half a dozen other similar types of conditions.

If there was no symbol over the square where the flight/date intersected on the wall it meant the flight was open for sale without restriction (up to a certain number of seats). Reservations agents couldn't be colour-blind! You also had to have good eyesight, especially if you were sitting at one of the positions quite a distance from the walls.

When an incoming call arrived, before it came through there was a recorded voice indicating where the call was coming from since that office handled calls from YVR and other points in B.C. as well as the U.S. west coast. So if a passenger called the CP reservations number in SFO you would hear a voice say "San Francisco" just before the call was connected, so you wouldn't have to ask them where they were when they asked when the next flight to YVR was. They would often assume they were talking to someone in their own city.

To complete a new booking you took a blank reservations card (which had 2 holes at the bottom to fit the card racks) and completed all the required information. If memory correct, cards for F class bookings were a different colour (blue I think). Once completed, the information on the card (name/contacts/flight itinerary etc.) looked much like today's computer-generated PNRs except it was all hand-written. It could be done very quickly if the passenger was booking for dates within the next month which was the usual situation. If there were no restrictions on the wall for that flight you immediately confirmed it and gave the passenger any other information they needed on the fare or the deadline for picking up tickets etc.

After the call was completed the reservations card was put in a moving conveyor belt that delivered the card to a position with a couple of telex operators.They transmitted details on the flight/date/number of seats confirmed to what CP called the Payload Control department located at the Operations Centre at YVR airport (some carriers called that function Space Control or similar). That department maintained the inventory on all flights systemwide and sent telex messages to the reservations offices when the condition on a flight changed, e.g. from open to waitlist, when someone would then change the little cardboard symbol for that flight on the wall.

After the telex operators finished sending the required information, the cards were put in another conveyor belt and they would up on the other side of the office which was known as "records". That part of the office had half a dozen large round tables with rotating center-sections on which large racks of completed reservations cards were kept in alphabetical order by flight and date. About 6 or 8 agents worked at each of those circular tables.

If a customer called who already held reservations but wanted to change something, you transferred the call to the records side where the original file card resided and they would handle the changes, with any cancelled/new flights added to the card and again forwarded to the telex operators for transmission to the payload control department. That group also did whatever they had to do to finalize the booking information that was sent to the airports close to departure tiime.

If a passenger wanted to book a flight beyond the period covered by the dates on the wall, or on certain routes that weren't commonly booked in YVR and thus didn't justify taking up space on the wall, you would put the caller on hold and call another position that maintained all that information in big binders.

Since CP operated to 5 continents, there were a lot of interline bookings. Those were mainly handled under freesale agreements, where the other carrier let you automatically confirm a certain number of seats on their flights and would advise by telex when a flight was full or could only be waitlisted. It was common that you could freesell Y class but had to request F class seats to reduce the risk of oversales. For carriers without freesale agreements the space would be requested by telex using the standard AIRIMP format which is basically still used today for computerized PNRs. In that case you would tell the caller that the space had been requested and they would be contacted when the flight was confirmed by the other carrier. You would then indicate the flight with status "NN" (for "need") and send the card on its way to the telex operators who would send the request to the other carrier. Once they replied, the status would be changed on the card and the passenger called back.

Since the file cards only had room for a certain number of flight sectors (forget how many, probably 8 or so), for very lengthy itineraries, or where many changes had been made, you might have 2 or 3 cards stapled together.

Another section in the office handled complex fare quotes. Since fares were much simpler in those days and rarely changed more than once a year or so, the large fare binders at each reservations position permitted the agents to quote a high percentage of fares. Where they were complicated with many carriers and flight sectors, the passenger would be advised that they would be called back with the fare quote. The rate desk, as it was called, then did the fare quote and called the passenger back. Most of their work was for travel agents as most compliex itineraries in those days were booked by travel agents, not directly with the airline. I worked on that YVR rate desk position for about a year and a half before moving to the head office tariffs/pricing department just before the reservations function was computerized.

Other specialized positions in the office handled groups and a few other functions including issuing tickets for passengers who wanted them mailed.

Surprisingly, that system worked pretty well but it had just about reached the breaking point when we were still doing it that way for 2 or 3 months after the first 747s arrived. As already mentioned, since typical load factors in those days was rarely over 60% and often lower, it didn't matter very much if mistakes were made which they certainly were with so much manual handling and human error..

[Edited 2013-02-13 21:04:18]

[Edited 2013-02-13 21:06:20]
 
divemaster08
Posts: 164
Joined: Fri Jul 18, 2008 1:45 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 5:16 am

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" computer system but its still very simple. The main reservation computer logs all flights and bookings, you/travel agent would call this reservation area and they would do the rest. I think this was still in regulation times so flights always cost the same no matter how soon/far you booked it. Made things easier for the reservation crew!

Here is a BOAC video kinda showing a reservation again.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-iG9Cd4IV0

Gotta love the ole classy music for these films! Makes flying feel like a privileged (as it was back then!)
My dream, is to fly, over the rainbow, so high!
 
User avatar
eta unknown
Posts: 1750
Joined: Wed Jun 13, 2001 5:03 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 5:30 am

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 Fokker F27)
If all lines had names, then flight full!
 
User avatar
czbbflier
Posts: 864
Joined: Fri Jul 07, 2006 1:28 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 5:32 am

Quoting factsonly (Reply 15):
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?
Quoting knope2001 (Reply 18):
(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.

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 had the one flight at the time versus the dozens of flights that had to be prepared in Toronto. That way we knew it was done right- and the station where that mattered the most in the even of a (frequently) full flight was YOW.

About 36 hours before departure, we'd get the aircraft assignment from dispatch in YYZ. (At the time we had three DC-10s with two different lay-outs. C-GFHX was an oddball plane if I recall.)
View Large View Medium
Click here for bigger photo!

Photo © Marc Hasenbein



Then we'd pull from our old Sperry reservations system all the needed numbers: Number of pax ex YYZ and YOW in J (Y "Big Seats", is what we called them) and in Y (as in Y). We'd have numbers for smoking and for non-smoking.

Then we'd pull a list of advance seat assignments- WCHRs, INFs, etc. and other special seating requests for both Toronto and Ottawa. The days of self pre-assigned seating had yet to happen...)

Based on W&B figures for that specific aircraft, we'd apportion an appropriate ratio of seats for Toronto and for Ottawa in each W&B section taking pre-assigned seating as well as smoking/non-smoking ratios into account.

Once the seat split was done on paper, we'd take the sticky seat map for that aircraft and manually remove all the seats we had given to Toronto.

That done, we'd send a telex (Y message) to YYZAPWD letting them know which seats they were allocated. To help them out we even suggested the pre-assigned seats.

Any open-sell seats were divided between the two stations.

This whole process took a couple of hours to complete and verify.

At the same time, people were preparing the boarding passes. Boarding passes had the flight number and date hand written in felt pen and were stamped with LGW. After the Air India bombing, we had to do a positive bag match so each boarding pass was numbered sequentially on the tear-off portion. The gate was left until the day of the flight although we almost always had Gate 14.

At check-in, when the pax presented their paper tickets we would pull the ticket.

We'd ask for seating preference if they didn't have a pre-assigned seat, Window or Aisle, Smoking or Non-Smoking.

We'd go to the seat map which was taped up behind all the check-in agents, pick up a prepared boarding pass and slap the seat sticker onto the boarding pass.

On the coupon we'd write the number of checked bags, the assigned seat and the sequence number from the boarding pass. Onto the back of the bag tag we'd write the sequence number from the boarding pass.

The boarding pass would be given to the passenger and the coupon would be taken to the back office where the 'control agent' (like me) would be busy scribbling down the passenger's name, gender, and number of bags on a roster, ordered by the sequence number.

The bags would go back to the Hudson General guys who would note the sequence number and write it down matching the LD3 it was placed. That way in the event we had a no-show at the gate we knew which LD3 had to be pulled to find the bags.

At the gate it was a simple task. As each passenger boarded, we'd tear off the end of the boarding pass with the sequence number and counting them. If we were short, then we'd check off all the sequence numbers to find out from the control agent downstairs who was missing.

Finally final W&B numbers were done by the flight crew so the FAs would physically count passengers, counting for gender and section.

It was manual and it was intensive. But the check-in and gate processes were faster done manually than when it was later done with computers.

That said, I wouldn't recommend doing manual check-ins if it can be helped! lol

Quoting flightsimer (Reply 23):
In this American Airlines DC-7 Video,

Thank you for finding this. When this question was posed I immediately thought of the video but didn't know exactly what it was about or where I'd find it.
 
dstc47
Posts: 1253
Joined: Thu Sep 16, 1999 3:53 am

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 9:16 am

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 1980's and eventually email replaced it. Always an exciting feeling to be in a room full of telex machines clattering away.

Some of the UK charter carriers also used plastic or laminated boarding cards, which were re-used time after time, rather than the stick on paper type. Very easy to count, 80 issued, 80 on board.
 
n729pa
Posts: 583
Joined: Thu Jan 20, 2011 6:16 pm

RE: How Did Reservations Work In The Pre-Computer Era?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 5:59 pm

Quoting Goldenshield (Reply 16):
That was usually done day-of, by the ticket counter, using one of these things:

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.