BOSTON (05/10/2000) - The breakneck pace of technological innovation in the airline industry continued this week as America West Airlines Inc. in Tempe, Arizona, unveiled a new home page that allows customers to book hotel rooms and rental cars when they buy plane tickets online. Meanwhile, St. Paul, Minnesota-based Northwest Airlines Inc. signed a $5 million deal with BEA Systems Inc. in San Jose to provide technology that should ultimately get rid of the green-screen terminals used by its booking agents.
Airlines have recently begun adding hotel and other types of reservations to their Web sites. Forerunners in this space include United Air Lines Inc. and Travelocity.com, said analysts.
GetThere.com Inc. in Menlo Park, California, designed the new America West site. Bernie Han, the airline's vice president for planning, said America West has more than 100 information technology projects on tap at this time and that the airline hopes to make numerous updates to its network in the coming months.
He said technological innovation is driving the airline business these days.
Han declined to specify how much the airline has invested in its recent Web site upgrade.
"It seems the bar rises every day and it's been accelerating in recent months," he said.
The new Web pages also allow customer to create user profiles that will prevent them from having to repeatedly enter name, address and credit-card information to book America West flights. The airline will use that information to create customer profiles.
"We're just starting to get a better understanding of who our customers are," Han said. "It's a powerful tool that we're just starting to utilize."
Han said America West plans to update its proprietary database in the near future to give customers the ability to find lower fares and to present information in a more user-friendly manner.
"It wasn't so much an issue when our reservations agents were the only ones using the system and they were used to it, but now we had to make adjustments because customers can access it directly through our Web site," Han said.
Bruce Yoximer, vice president and co-founder of GetThere, said he believes that more airlines will begin to offer hotel and car bookings through their Web pages, perhaps even creating online consolidated fares for their customers. He added that such products should appeal to business fliers who need to make reservations quickly and at an affordable price.
The America West page adds another customer to GetThere's client list; the firm picked up Trans World Airlines in April. Yoximer said he expects an online travel industry shakeout and that many of the companies currently looking to design Web pages and provide technical support for airlines will fall by the wayside.
"One of the thing's that's important for us is the transaction load going through our engines," he said. "That's how companies are ultimately going to be judged - who can move the most volume.
Meanwhile, the Northwest/BEA deal will replace the traditional Westinghouse reservations terminal used by Northwest agents with browser terminals. Jeremy Schneider, Northwest's manager of middleware services, said the BEA Tuxedo product will also be used as a messaging tool between the airline's legacy systems and its newer technology.
"It helps get information through our firewall to our back-end system," Schneider said. He added that Northwest has systems dating back to the 1960s.
"We operate in a very mature Unisys environment. We have some functions that still use TPF, and we use Worldspan as our reservations system, and none of it speaks to the other stuff," Schneider said. "There's a whole lot of linking going on."
BEA's product has been at use at Northwest for four years, but the deal will give BEA access to the airline's entire infrastructure in the hopes it can create a more efficient data exchange environment.
"We're hoping to speed up all the transactions that drive their Web content," said John Kiger, BEA's director of product marketing.