Airline Ticketing Systems React to Disaster

Rebookings prompt boosts in capacity

When thousands of flights were grounded and canceled on Sept. 11, Paul Quade knew that a demand spike for ticketing information on his mainframe was coming.

The senior director of internal business systems at Galileo International Inc. in Rosemont, Ill., quickly switched on extra capacity that day in the reservation system for Chicago-based United Air Lines Inc. and other airlines using the global distribution service (GDS).

The added computing power was turned on "because at that time, we weren't sure when they were going to start flying again," he said.

Each mainframe has up to 10 engines, though not all are running. On Sept. 11, Galileo turned on some of the unused engines, or smaller computers within the mainframes, to increase capacity by 25%.


Preparing for The Traffic Jam

A breakdown of how Galileo boosted capacity in anticipation of rebookings and cancellations following the Sept. 11 attacks:

Total mainframes 20
Mainframes used for reservation systems 6
Engines running on reservation main-frames prior to Sept. 11 32
Engines “turned on”in those mainframes on Sept. 11 8

"It did spike when there was a lot of rebooking going on. It did not spike as high as we thought and has since dropped to expected levels," he said. "The longer [the airport closures] went, people found other ways to get home."

Galileo processes 350 million transactions annually through its reservation system.

Galileo rival Sabre Holdings Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas, also added capacity to its old mainframe GDS through its outsourcer, Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Plano, Texas.

EDS provides services for companies such as Sabre, Fort Worth-based American Airlines Inc. and Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc.

"It's been our clients in the travel business who have needed the most support," in terms of needing to set up and manage crisis centers and special call centers, said EDS spokesman Tom Mattia. As a result, EDS has pulled employees from other areas and put them in data centers dealing with travel clients, he said. Sabre didn't indicate the method it used to increase capacity or the amount of the increase.

Amadeus Global Travel Distribution SA in Madrid didn't add capacity, said spokesman Bill Spears. "Our system has already more than enough flexibility to cope with the peaks and troughs that are occurring in the business right now," Spears said.

In the week following the attacks, Amadeus reported that it had 1.6 million fewer bookings than it did during the same period a year ago. That represents a 28% drop, though in North America, where planes were grounded for three days after the attacks, ticket purchases dropped 74%. North America represents 12% of Amadeus' total annual bookings, according to the company.

"What that doesn't say is what the net, final impact will be on the industry," Spears said. "Those [declines] are bookings that might be booked at a future time."

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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