I apologize in my delay getting back to this thread. I have been using what free time I have had to research United's historical timeline, press releases, annual reports, Google's patent search engine, and using the Internet Archive to locate information on this subject. While I have made some progress in finding information on boarding passes and gate readers from the late 1990s though early 2000s, I have still been yet to find any additional examples of boarding passes, tickets, and itineraries from United from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. If anyone new to this topic has any examples, I would be very interested in seeing them.
My other mystery was what differentiated blue boarding pass stock from gold?
In looking at United's timeline,
it was on February 25, 1998 that United updated their logo and rebranded their various cabins: United First, United Business, and United Economy. From what I can gather, it was at this time that the ticket jackets were color coded gold, silver, and blue respectively.
The color-coded boarding passes didn't come until later. According to a United Press Release
dated December 6, 2000, new "premium boarding passes" were being introduced to simplify the boarding process by making it easier to identify who was eligible for early boarding (this was before group numbers). Regardless of cabin, gold "premium" boarding passes would be issued to Premier and higher level Mileage Plus members as well as Star Alliance Gold and Silver members. Additionally, gold boarding passes would be issued to any passenger seated in United First, United Business, and United Economy Plus. I was somewhat surprised to read that United Economy Plus passengers would receive a gold boarding pass and would be curious to know if this held true.
Do you recall when those magnetic ticket/gate readers went in, and when they disappeared in favor of barcodes/scanners? Even after scanners became the norm, I remember UA left those gate readers in place for a little while... Not sure if this whole deal is different from the "Apollo workstation" you mention above?
I am still trying to obtain more information on these gate readers. In speaking with a few contacts at United Airlines, the devices were manufactured by OMRON (specifically by their Social Business Division). I have reached out to them to see what more information I can glean. That being said, I was able to find some bits within press releases and annual reports.
The boarding pass readers at the gate operated in conjunction with the Apollo reservation system and FastAIR. FastAIR was essentially a graphical version of the reservation system that didn't require complex text entries; essentially, FastAIR was to Apollo what Windows was to DOS. FastAIR was first mentioned in United's 1996 Annual Report (Page 7): United began installing FastAIR, an electronic airport processing system that speeds up the ticketing, baggage, and check-in processes, reducing line waits.
The first mention I can find of the boarding pass readers is from a Aviation Daily article
dated March 28, 1997. The article mentions that the gate readers, which had been previously scrapped, were to be reintroduced in effort to increase efficiency. Another Business Travel News article
dated June 9, 1997 mentions that the readers will be deployed in Chicago starting in July of 1997.
The purpose of the boarding pass readers was briefly discussed in United’s 1997 Annual Report (Page 16): To help the boarding process move faster (up to 20 percent faster by our calculations), United began testing boarding pass readers at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in July 1997. These devices provide an accurate record of passengers who have boarded the aircraft, they eliminate seat duplications, and they speed up the positive passenger bag-match and boarding process.
Further, United’s 1998 Annual Report (Page 17)
mentioned that the gate readers had been installed at 40 stations. In United’s 1999 Annual Report (Page 20),
they announced that the readers had been installed at 80% of their domestic stations. A Chicago Tribune article
briefly mentions the gate readers and claims that boarding efficiency has been improved by about 15%.
And finally, in United’s 2000 Annual Report (Page 29),
they announce that the installation of the readers had been completed on June 28 of that year. In all, 463 readers were installed at 87 domestic stations and 2 international stations.
As far as any mention of the devices by OMRON, I turned to their annual reports. The OMRON 1999 Annual Report (Page 12)
introduces a new market with their boarding pass readers and includes one photo. In OMRON’s 2000 Annual Report (Page 11)
there is again a photo of the device. In a Field Guide
by Automotive Design & Production, OMRON’s Social Systems are outlined. The write-up claims that OMRON’s BPR101 device can process 560 passengers in 8 minutes. This is the only reference that I have yet to find which mentions a specific model number: BPR101.
A Google search of patents shows that OMRON holds numerous patents that pertain to airline operations dating back to the 1960s. Two patents that seem to represent these devices best are: US5151692A
As far as the operation of the OMRON boarding pass readers, I’ve learned that each gate area would typically have two computer terminals at the gate check-in desk. There would be a third terminal installed either close to the gate reader, or in some instances at the check-in desk. These configurations may have varied greatly depending on the specific setup of each station and gate. Regardless, the agent would a separate application on the terminal linked to the specific gate reader to assign the flight for processing.
While United announced
to phase out paper tickets by January 2004, they still existed in smaller numbers while the magnetic boarding pass readers were in use. For these instances, during check-in, the boarding pass would be stapled back-to-back with the paper flight coupon. The agent at the boarding door would rip the boarding pass off at the perforation closest to the stapled edge. The agent would retain the paper ticket and feed the boarding pass through the boarding pass reader. The passenger would then collect their boarding pass stub which would be ejected at the opposite end of the machine.
From speaking to a few former United employees, the barcode scanners started to come online in 2007 or so (this may have been earlier). There was a period of time where the two types of readers overlapped. From what I understand, a great deal of effort had to go into programming the old magnetic ticket printers to be able to print a barcode on the boarding pass.
This is all of the information I have as of now. Again, if anyone has anything additional to add, please feel free to do so. Also, if anyone has any old boarding passes, paper tickets, or itineraries from United Airlines from 1988-1999, I’d be eager to see them.