You subscribed to the OAG and you had five phone lines because you
were always on the phone with airlines and tour operators and
hotels and clients and, on bad days, the Air Traffic Conference.
Then the nice man from the airline brought The Computer. It
wasn't his computer, but his airline was a "co-host," and that
meant he would take care of you.
You'll be able to throw away that heavy OAG, he said. And you
won't be on the phone all day, either, so you won't get that crick
in your neck and the cauliflower ear. It's all in the computer.
Every flight. Every fare. And wait 'til you see the printer!
And so you try out the keyboard and you call up a route that you
know. Wow. There they are, all the flights -- except your favorite
8 a.m. nonstop to Chicago on HappyFace Airlines, the flight you're
always booking for the law firm upstairs. Where did it go?
Scroll down, said the nice man.
• • •
That little drama was played out in travel agencies many
thousands of times in the 1970s. Within a decade, most U.S. travel
agencies were wired. By 1983, agents were delivering $15 billion a
year in domestic sales to U.S. air carriers, 90% of it through the
airlines' own CRSs. There was no World Wide Web, and the phrase
B-to-B e-commerce wouldn't be invented for another 20 years or so,
but if there was a cutting edge, travel agents were on it. You
could walk into a travel agency in Peoria, Ill., with a credit card
and get instant confirmation for a seat between Jakarta and
Singapore, halfway around the world. Cool.
Now the nice man from the airline is building Orbitz.com. He
brags to the press at presentations in New York and Washington that
it won't be "biased." It will be better than the old "legacy"
It will be better than anything travel agents have, said the
nice man from the airlines.