Alaska Airlines opts for Linux booking engine

Alaska Airlines has completed the migration of its online travel planning and pricing engine to a PC-based system running the...

Alaska Airlines has completed the migration of its online travel planning and pricing engine to a PC-based system running the Linux operating system.

The transition away from mainframe-based systems to a Linux infrastructure represents a "major facelift for our core shopping engine" and a "huge step" for the airline, said Steve Jarvis, Alaska Airlines' vice president of e-commerce and distribution.

The move shifts the nation's ninth-largest airline away from the system provided by Sabre Holdings to the Linux-based QPX system developed by ITA Software. 

Sabre announced a similar effort to move from IBM transaction-processing mainframes in September 2001. It said the transition would take at least three years to complete. 

ITA Software's deal with Alaska Airlines comes on the heels of a string of other wins. The company's customer list includes Orbitz, Continental Airlines, America West Airlines, Air Canada, Galileo International and Accovia. 

QPX relies on XML and uses a component-based architecture that has no single point of failure and scales linearly, said Jeremy Wertheimer, ITA Software's chief executive and founder.

The software also supports various user interfaces, such as websites, reservation centres, kiosks and wireless devices, and it allows a company to customise fare and schedule information. 

"It processes and confirms availability for trip pricing in less than one-tenth of a second, single airline airfare shopping queries in less than two seconds, and comprehensive airfare shopping queries across all airlines in less than 15 seconds," Wertheimer said. 

It does so by running algorithms that allow it to analyse airfares and routing options more efficiently, Wertheimer said. Instead of using mainframes, QPX uses midtier servers that receive standard industry data feeds, including fares, flight schedules and customer-specific information. It also maintains direct availability connections to major carriers as well as standard availability data on all other airlines worldwide. 

"This is a huge improvement in the number of itineraries we can process," said Jarvis. When the airline was using the mainframe-based Sabre system, it often had to make more than 40 different data requests to produce one screen of itinerary options, he said. "Now we do it all with one trip to the data source." 

Another major benefit of the new system is reduced costs, said Jarvis. A website, airline, travel agency or reservation system using QPX can book and ticket any itinerary for a fraction of a dollar per ticket, compared with the $15 or more for bookings made through travel agents. 

Alaska Airlines earns 30% of its $600m in passenger revenue through its website. Last year, the airline processed three million transactions online. 

Dan Verton writes for Computerworld

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