Airline seeks online bookings boost via IT upgrade

Frontier Airlines Holdings has changed its back-end systems, moving from Windows to Solaris for its Web site as part of an effort to boost online bookings.

Frontier now gets about 30 percent of its revenue through online bookings but hopes to increase that to 50 percent in the next year.

Bob Rapp, CIO of Denver-based Frontier, said the change is part a strategy to improve Web site functionality and performance and to encourage customers to use the site with incentives such as free in-flight TV for people who book online. "The underlying technology was really meant as getting us a foundation in which we can grow," he said.

The industry leader in online bookings is JetBlue Airways, which at the end of 2005 reported that 77 percent of its bookings come through its Web site. Analysts expect that number to grow.

An airline's Web site "is incredibly critical to an airline's survival because financially, the cost of a sale through a Web site is generally much lower," said Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Processing a booking through a Web site can cost an airline less than a US$1, while a reservation booked through a call center can cost between US$8 and US$16, said Harteveldt. It means airlines need to provide customers with a good online experience, he said.

Frontier completed the migration last month to a J2EE environment with Solaris on Sun Microsystems servers that use Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processors. The new system can handle 500,000 transactions an hour; the older one could handle about a tenth of that, said Rapp.

One of the reasons for Frontier's switch is to improve its ability to work with the Unix-based booking engine of its reservation systems provider, Sabre Holdings in Texas. Frontier began using Sabre just over a year ago, said Rapp, and "we felt that if there were any technical issues we could step through those issues more coherently with them with this particular technology platform."

According to Gomez, which benchmarks Web sites, in its most recent survey period, from May 20 to June 20, Frontier scored above the airline industry benchmark average with a 4.13 second response time. The average is 5.596 seconds. One of the fastest-loading Web sites is run by U.S. carrier AirTran Airways in Orlando, with a 1-second response time, according to Gomez.

AirTran experienced problems this week when an upgrade of its internal reservation systems left travelers waiting in line. The planned shutdown began at 10 p.m. Monday and was scheduled to be completed by 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. But the upgrade did not go as planned, affecting operations throughout the day. By 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the airline said its "internal reservations and airport check-in systems were online and stabilized."

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More about Advanced Micro Devices Far EastForrester ResearchFrontier AirlinesJetBlue AirwaysSabre CorpSun MicrosystemsVIA

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