Sidebar: Sabre Timeline

It's hard to believe that a system that now routinely processes 15,000 transactions per second and keeps track of 79 million airfares consisted in the 1950s of a roomful of Teletype machines, telephones, card files and clerks.

In a chance meeting in 1953, American Airlines Inc. President C.R. Smith and IBM salesman R. Blair Smith came up with a better idea: what would become the first real-time business application of IT.

Sabre, as the computerized reservation system came to be known, was completely overhauled after airline deregulation in 1979 greatly expanded travelers' choices. During the 1980s, Sabre became IT's poster child for "competitive advantage." People inevitably pointed to Sabre if they wished to prove that IT made companies not only more efficient but also more competitive. Indeed, in 1984, American's competitors sued the airline, saying the reservation system gave American's flights an unfair priority on the displays seen by travel agents.

Now the venerable system is getting yet another remake, this time to an architecture that would have been dismissed as impossible just 10 years ago -- commodity systems using microprocessors and the open-source Linux operating system.


IBM and American Airlines team up to form SABRE, the Semi-Automatic Business Research Environment. It's based on SAGE, the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment -- the first major system to use interactive, real-time computing -- which IBM helped develop for the military.


The first Sabre reservation system is installed in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., on two IBM 7090 computers. It processes 84,000 telephone calls per day.


The Sabre system, and its nationwide network, is completed at a cost of $40 million and becomes the largest commercial real-time data-processing system in the world. It saves American Airlines 30% on labor costs.


The Sabre system is upgraded to IBM S/360 and moved to a new consolidated computer center in Tulsa, Okla. It is used for all of American Airlines' data processing facilities.


The Sabre system is installed in a travel agency for the first time, triggering a wave of travel automation. By the end of the year, 130 locations have the system.


Sabre introduces BargainFinder, the industry's first automated low-fare search capability. Competitors sue American Airlines, saying its Sabre system unfairly gives its flights priority on the displays seen by travel agents. American agrees to discontinue any preferential treatment of its flights.


Sabre introduces easySabre, allowing consumers with PCs to tap into the Sabre system to make airline, hotel and car rental reservations.


On May 12, the ultrareliable Sabre system goes down for 12 hours. The cause: a latent bug in disk-drive software that destroys file addresses.


Sabre launches


AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines, spins off The Sabre Group as an independent company.


Sabre Holdings Corp. begins migrating its massive, 25-year-old mainframe system for air-travel shopping and pricing to HP NonStop servers and Linux servers.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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