Travel Site Faces Integration Challenges

The travel megasite under development by four U.S. airlines got a huge boost last week after 23 U.S. and foreign carriers signed on as associate members. But the added support will leave IT with a big headache.

Nicknamed T2, the Web site is a joint project of UAL Corp.'s United Air Lines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Northwest Airlines Inc. and Continental Airlines Inc. It will offer prices equal to or lower than those available from other travel sources, officials said.

But good news for customers is not-so-good news for the Web site's information technology staff, which is now challenged with linking the myriad global distribution systems used for ticketing. Each system contains different data formats, database formats and a hodgepodge of custom applications developed for each user, observers said.

These technology issues are different from those faced at travel sites like Travelocity.com and Expedia.com because the new site will offer consumers the Internet-only fares that until now have been available only from individual airline sites.

"This [technology] will be unique in offering [Internet-only] inventories," said Ben Burnett, a Chicago-based vice president at The Boston Consulting Group, which is developing the site.

Developers plan to launch the site by midyear, which industry watchers said is a reasonable goal - with some patchwork.

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