Northwest and Continental debut 'interline' e-tickets
In what travel industry analysts expect to be the first of many similar agreements, Northwest Airlines Corp. and Continental Airlines Inc. today began selling integrated electronic tickets in conjunction with computerized reservations system operator Worldspan LP.
Previously, an e-ticket sold by one of the two airlines couldn't be recognized by the other's booking and check-in systems. But Atlanta-based Worldspan said U.S. and Canadian travel agents who use its system can now input Northwest-validated e-tickets for trips that also include legs on Continental flights.
Such setups are called interline systems; they enable different airlines to share passenger information. But most air carriers still lack the ability to transfer data back and forth electronically, which has made it difficult for travelers using e-tickets to make last-minute flight changes or to book trips that involve multiple airlines.
Last year, IBM and the International Air Transport Association trade group developed an interline system that's supposed to let multiple airlines share a single network instead of building individual connections such as the one announced today by Northwest, Continental and Worldspan.
The Open Travel Alliance, another trade association that's focusing on developing Internet-based communications standards, is working on a separate set of XML-based interline capabilities. But analysts said those two systems have yet to be implemented on a widespread basis.
Northwest and Continental are the fourth and fifth largest airlines in the U.S. As part of today's announcement, Worldspan said it plans to introduce similar e-ticketing arrangements for "several" other carriers this year. But the reservations company didn't provide any specific information about those deals.
Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said demand by travelers interested in taking advantage of the convenience of e-tickets will eventually force airlines into some sort of seamless information-sharing setup. "The industry as a whole will have to embrace this," he said. "It will just take time."