Early methods of airline reservations were ingenious
make-do systems based
the systems used for slow-mov-
ing Pullman accommodations. The basic technology con-
sisted of telephone calls made by agents. Flights were han-
dled from the point
origin. This had a somewhat different
meaning in the immediate postwar period. The gains in the
range of airplanes developed during World War I1 would
take a few years to come into wide use in commercial
aviation. Limited ranges meant that longer flights were
broken up into “legs.” Each “leg” was treated as an origina-
tion. Longer flights meant that a ticket agent had to combine
legs by phoning a
of origination points.
Flight information was sent and received through a com-
plicated system of manual operations. The booking point
had a manual display board (often using chalk) which re-
corded the number of available seats
a particular flight.
Local agents were in sight range
the board: some even
used binoculars. Agents or travelers from other locations
seeking reservations by phone suffered from time lags in-
volved in getting, using, and modifying the data
ity of flights. Advance sales or cancellations might be initi-
ated by letter, by telephone, or in person. But all ended up
as a written record at some point. sent to a central inventory
control unit. There was inevitably much guesswork about
selling or not selling seats, and many frustrations and diffi-
culties in communicating effectively with agents,
reservations information exchange was done by phone.
Overbooking was reportedly common.
reservations were even more difficult
A point-of-origin agent could see the board, of course,
but the official availability data was that held in the central
ticketing office. If there was a question about seat availabil-
ity, even the local agent had to call this office. As air travel
increased, it became clear that the system was
its way to
Other ideas for automating airline
There are indications of one or two early conversations
and proposals to automate reservations in some way or
another. Ralph Damon, president of American Airlines,
was approached by Sperry in 1945 with an offer to design a
system. Damon was obviously not convinced, since the air-
line selected Teleregister later the same year.
1947, well after the Teleregister effort was under way.
Engineering Research Associates of St. Paul, Minnesota
(later bought out by Sperry) wrote a “Proposal for Auto-
matic Space Reservations System,” which featured the use
electric typewriter as the input and output device. In
the same year, the
carried an announce-
ment that Northwest Airlines had access to some kind of
device that could give a yes or
requests for airplane
seats. There is
evidence that either
these two systems
was ever built.
American Airlines takes up the challenge
Just after the war, with a clear vision of the potential
problem, the head of American Airlines’ Systems and Meth-
ods Division, Charles Ammann, researched the various
existing methods for handling seat inventories.
cluded that all were as limited as those of his own com-
pany. Carefully analyzing the various aspects
American’s traditional “request and reply” and “sell and
There was inevitably much guesswork
about selling seats and frustration in
communicating with agents, as most
reservations information exchange
was done by phone.
report” systems, Ammann outlined solutions to existing
A new system should present the flight information
necessary for the customer’s decision immediately
The new system should keep track of ticket sales and
cancellations as they occur and keep up an accurate
The agent’s machinery in the new system should re-
tain a record of the most recent transaction until
consciously cleared or until another transaction re-
placed the previous one.
4. The system should automatically let all agents and
sellers know immediately when a flight was sold out.
The system should perform these tasks economically
and be capable of expansion.
Using his training as a radio engineer, Ammann built a
limited working model of an electronic inventory-control
system. The model assumed three flight legs in three days
with three agents connected to the central office. Relays
served as storage, and availability was indicated by lights.
Simple push-button switches set up availability queries.’
Ammann brought this model to the president of Ameri-
can Airlines and sold him on the idea
a flight reservation
system? After considering various possibilities for a com-
mercial developer for the project, American Airlines nego-
tiated with the Teleregister Corporation in 1945 for its
The Teleregister Corporation
Teleregister was founded in the 1920s to handle the
display of stock market transactions using automated dis-
play boards instead of handwritten entries
The founder was Frenchman Philip Dreyfus, who had been
in the French signal corps. Dreyfus was familiar with French
signal techniques such as Baudot codes. which were more
sophisticated than the Morse system. He became a pioneer
in the teletypewriter and teleprinter business. It is said that
he got the idea of displays during the growth of the stock
business in the 1920s. Large Teleregister boards became
fixtures at many brokerage offices, and Teleregister became
the leader in this technology.