Travel Agent: Good afternoon, how can I be of assistance?
Dave: Hi, yeah. I’d like to book a flight to Honolulu, leaving next Tuesday.
Travel Agent: Certainly. One-way, or return?
Dave: Return please. Coming back the following Wednesday.
Travel Agent: Ok. We have one leaving at 3 45pm, via Tokyo, arriving in Honolulu at 7 15am local time on Tuesday morning.
Dave: That sounds fine. And the return?
Travel Agent: Let me have a look. Right, there is one departing Honolulu at 10 26am on Wednesday, again through Tokyo, arriving back at 4 10pm Thursday.
Dave: So I lose over a day traveling? Anyway, that’s fine. How much is it?
Travel Agent: It’s 8200rmb for economy, and 17450 for business. Those include tax and surplus charges.
Dave: Credit card OK?
Travel Agent: That’ll do nicely.
Anna: Hi. I’m in a hurry. I need the next flight out of here to Moscow.
Ticket Agent: Let me see. The next flight is at 2 45, but it’s fully booked. After that, we have one via Dubai, departing at 4 08.
Anna: Any chance of getting on the 2 45?
Ticket Agent: I can put you on stand-by.
Anna: That would be great, thanks.
Ticket Agent: And I’ll book you on the 4 08.
Anna: Do I have to pay for two tickets?
Ticket Agent: No. Basically I book you on the 4 08, but you go on the stand-by list for the 2 45. It’s the same ticket.
Anna: Ok. Thank you. You’re a life saver.
Nobody likes the middle seat on a plane. Sitting on a long-haul flight, stuck in the middle seat, is like being in the middle of a people sandwich for half a day. There isn’t the view one gets from the window seat, and there isn’t the freedom to move given by the aisle seat. You can’t lean against the wall and sleep, and you can’t stretch your legs. For the whole flight your elbows hit against people on both sides. It sucks.
Air tickets, generally, work on a supply-and-demand system. Once they go on sale (usually a little under a year before the departure date) the price changes depending on availability: this means it gets more expensive as more seats are bought, and then suddenly very cheap if the plane is not fully booked (the internet, however, has killed the stand-by ticket market – it is now easier for airlines to sell discount tickets through popular last-minute travel websites, so it makes no sense to sell them at the airport). Tickets to popular destinations, during peak season, or at certain times of day all cost more because the air carrier knows there is a demand. It is often cheaper to have a stopover in an itinerary than to fly direct because this involves two less popular routes rather than one in high demand.
The computer system that controls flight bookings works on two levels: the first is the Airline Reservation System (ARS), and the second is either a Global Distribution System (GDS), or a Regional Distribution System (RDS). The ARS contains information about the flight including the schedule, available seats, prices, and a Passenger Name Record (PNR –name, passport data, etc.). This information, and information on thousands of other flights, is then sent to the GDS or RDS, where travel agents and customers compare and buy tickets. The ARS is updated in real time. Before a flight the passenger details are moved to the Departure Control System, where passengers are checked as either ‘no shows’ or ‘go shows’, and then to the administrative and financial services.
Whilst airlines helped set up ARS and GDS, now these are companies in themselves with billions of dollars passing through them. GDS travel services have expanded to also include hotels, car rental, travel insurance, tour operators, and more, making them ‘one stop shops’ for 21st century travelers.