Network to Calm E-Ticket Turbulence

FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - In an effort to give electronic airline tickets the same status as paper tickets, IBM Corp. and the International Air Transport Association last week announced a global airline information system that will allow carriers to transfer electronic tickets among their networks.

Currently, when a passenger with an electronic ticket needs to switch carriers, the ticketing airline typically has to issue a paper ticket, and the passenger has to find another airline that will honor it.

Some carriers have bilateral agreements that allow electronic transfers of passengers' electronic tickets, but such agreements are the exception in the air travel marketplace, according to William Doucette, executive manager of project development at IBM's travel and transportation industry solutions division.

Rather than having carriers build multiple connections among their proprietary systems, IBM worked with the IATA to create the single-connection Global ET program. Airlines can join the network and transfer passengers in real time, eliminating one of the largest barriers to electronic-ticket acceptance, according to Andreea Dutescu, manager of the IATA's network business development wing.

"Airlines have reported savings of $1 to $8 for [each] e-ticket issued, but the inability to [transfer] prevents their global acceptance," said Dutescu. "The industry has to have a solution if it wants to make e-tickets the rule."

Michelle Weeks, general manager for electronic ticketing at Delta Air Lines Inc. in Atlanta, said her company is already attempting to work out electronic-ticketing agreements with the other carriers in an online alliance that was recently formed with United Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Inc.

The Global ET program "would have to have at least one other alliance partner to make it worth our while," said Weeks.

Brendan Byrne, general manager of electronic business at Aer Lingus Group PLC in Dublin, said the entire airline industry needs to adopt some sort of electronic-ticketing standard.

Non-Compete

"This shouldn't be a competitive advantage," he said. "This should be a service that's out there." He noted that if the members of a particular alliance form their own standard, the problem won't be solved.

"[Airlines are] not quite used to the idea of working together," said Jeffrey Osborn, director of sales and marketing for transportation industry solutions at Science Applications International Corp. in San Diego. "This runs counter to the way they've always done business."

But doing business the old way had its drawbacks.

For example, when US Airways Inc. was recently threatened with a flight attendants' strike, Delta agreed to honor USAirways electronic tickets and brought in 30 programmers to create a link between the two systems, said Weeks.

Doucette said that's the kind of inefficiency that Global ET was designed to avoid.

"There's an enormous need for what we're doing," he said. "Maintenance is one of the biggest IT costs on the airline side. The cost of establishing this link with us would be a system integration effort one time and you're done."

Final coding and unit testing of Global ET is expected to be completed this summer, Doucette said.

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