From the archives: Alaska was first U.S. airline to sell tickets online
This news release was originally issued on Dec. 27, 1995, and is reposted here in its entirety in honor of Internet Day Oct. 29, which commemorates the day when computers at UCLA and Stanford first made a host-to-host connection. Alaska was the first airline in the U.S. to explore the uncharted world of the Internet, with a homemade web site that allowed customers to book tickets online.
Alaska’s spokesperson at the time, Greg Witter, wrote the press release with the breaking news of Alaska’s new capability. He revealed that there was a bit of trepidation, after an initial test of the much-ballyhooed technology failed miserably. Reliability wasn’t a given, thus the quote in the release by then CEO Bill Ayer that the transaction could take “from three to 10 minutes.”
Witter recalls that, after the bugs were finally worked out and the press release hit the wire, a reporter called and said the URL didn’t work. Brief panic ensued. The reason it didn’t work? “The URL was the last part of a sentence so, naturally, we had a period at the end of the sentence,” Witter recalls. The reporter was including that period as part of the URL—i.e. www.alaskaair.com.
That’s how uncharted the web was at that time. Fast forward 20 years and Alaska has string of tech firsts, including first airline to land using GPS, first with Web check-in and first with wireless Internet onboard. Not to mention recent innovations like self bag-tagging, mobile boarding passes and biometric fingerprint access to airport lounges. It would make the airline’s early tech founders’ heads spin.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Alaska is first U.S. airline to make internet interactive; customers can now book selves for travel
December 27, 1995
SEATTLE — Alaska Airlines today became the nation’s first carrier to offer customers the option of using the Internet to book themselves for travel and to purchase tickets.
“We surveyed our frequent flyers and nearly half said they wanted the convenience of making travel plans on their home or office computer,” said Bill Ayer, vice president of marketing and planning.
The new system also covers all flights operated by Alaska’s sister carrier, Horizon Air.
Ayer called the Internet a “truly unique vehicle for marketing and selling because it puts our product at the fingertips of customers — any time of the day or night.”
“Within three to 10 minutes, depending on familiarity with the Web site and extent of travel plans, a customer can search out the lowest fare and most convenient schedule, book themselves and pay for the ticket,” Ayer said. “The Web site is very user-friendly.”
“While we’re still in the first phases of implementation,” Ayer said, “the system is up and running and booking flights. As time goes on, we’ll refine the site and add even more features.”
One of the most attractive aspects of the system is that it provides users side-by-side comparisons of all the Alaska and Horizon flights, times and lowest available fares in the markets they plan to fly on the days they want to fly.
Customers may book flights, purchase tickets with a credit card and be confirmed through the site with the airlines’ ticketless Instant Travel option. Or, like more conventional forms of booking, customers can hold a seat for 24 hours and purchase their ticket later by phoning Alaska Airlines or visiting a travel agent.
In January, travelers also will be able to secure seat assignments through the Internet. And sometime in 1996, Mileage Plan members will be able to use the system to redeem frequent flyer awards and check on their mileage accounts.
Besides flight schedules and fares, the Web site also offers information about Mileage Plan partners, profiles on cities served, and reference material for those with unique travel needs.
Access to the Alaska-Horizon Web site is available to anyone who can connect to the Internet. The site is currently designed to work with the Netscape browser. Additional browsers are being added next month.
Alaska and Horizon serve more than 70 cities throughout Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Russia and six Western states.