Net Travel War Intensifies on Wireless Battlefield

FRAMINGHAM (07/28/2000) - One month after it released flight information and paging services for Palm Inc.'s personal digital assistants, Chicago-based United Air Lines Inc. this week expanded the offerings to Web phones.

Users of telephones with Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) capabilities can check the status of flights, search for flight availability and check frequent-flier information. A paging service alerts customers about flight delays or cancellations and provides gate information for departing flights.

WAP phone users can access the new features at www.ua2go.com or http://mobile.united.com.

Wave of Developments

The announcement is the latest in a flurry of wireless developments in the travel industry.

Sabre Holdings Corp. two weeks ago launched a wireless booking tool, and its chief competitor, GetThere Inc., struck an alliance with Bedminster, N.J.-based Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless provider.

Sabre, in Fort Worth, Texas, and GetThere, in Menlo Park, Calif., have been battling for the top spot in the business-to-business travel arena. Both firms see wireless technology as a key to winning that spot.

GetThere launched its wireless initiative for mobile phones last year, offering flight status alerts, itinerary tracking and the ability to change flight plans.

Sabre's Business Travel Solutions, released in early July, supports personal digital assistants and mobile phones and allows travelers to book flights, hotel rooms and rental cars using their wireless devices.

Cindy Groner, Sabre's director of wireless services, said the company this winter will add push technology to deliver messages such as flight status changes and weather updates.

Groner said the booking service will use mostly pull-down windows, so that only the departure and arrival cities need to be keyed in by users.

The Sabre release will support Wireless Markup Language, XML, Handheld Device Markup Language and WAP technologies.

GetThere co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Dan Whaley said companies looking to leverage wireless technology to further their businesses will need to partner with wireless providers that control the content of wireless menus.

GetThere has already struck deals with Sprint PCS Group in Kansas City, Mo., and Bell Mobility in Montreal, Whaley said. GetThere is also negotiating with European wireless providers to enter the European market.

Whaley and Groner acknowledged that the current wireless releases are immature but stressed the importance of taking these baby steps now.

"I think people [in the U.S.] understand intuitively that it is going to be a big thing," Whaley said. "They look at Europe. They look at Japan. They see how popular these devices are, and they can sort of see the future."

"This is where the transactions are heading," Groner said. "It's something you've got to do."

Earlier this month, St. Paul, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines Inc. announced the launch of a wireless service that lets its passengers check gate information and flight status. In June, computer reservations giant Galileo International Inc. in Rosemont, Ill., launched its wireless flight status and rebooking offering.

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