How did airlines ticketing work before the internet era?


I am gonna refer to the movie Argo here which was based in Iranian revolution in 1979. In the final moments of the movie during the tickets are bought only during the last moment (I understand the last moment ticket purchase was dramatized for the movie). But was it possible to book a ticket for flight from Iran from United States so quick without the internet?

In: 28

Commercial air travel was invented after the telephone.

In the old days, you bought tickets at the airport, or through travel agents. Either way, the person you bought the ticket from would need to phone the central booking service for the airline, so that they could ensure there were enough tickets available.

So, just because the internet didn’t exist doesn’t mean computers didn’t.

Back in… 1960? the Sabre system was developed for American Airlines. Essentially every booking agent had a dumb terminal into a mainframe computer. The airline would have a 1-800 #, or they would have an actual booking office in larger cities and at the airports they serviced. Travel agents who wanted to offer that airline, could subscribe to the airline’s booking system and they’d literally plug their terminals over leased phone lines into the airline’s mainframe.

Immediately, every other airline went to IBM and the other big computer companies to develop competing systems. Over time, each system was bought or replaced by one or two of the major players; each surviving system generalized so it could service multiple airlines, have different features, planes, rewards programs etc. But same idea – you’d have a computer with a terminal into “the mainframe” and you were either an airline employee in a call center or at a desk somewhere, or a travel agency who subscribed to the service.

In the internet days, the leased phone lines and dumb terminals gave way to remote clients over dialup or ISDN and eventually into app-like smart clients, web delivered database apps.

At one time, you could walk up to the counter, buy a ticket on an international flight with cash, and nobody would bat an eye

We had telephones, a travel agency would have a direct line to an airline booking office. Airline booking offices would have a literal direct line to the airline’s mainframe. They were called ‘terminals’, and predate the internet. The internet, as we know it, came from ARPANET but there were remote terminals connected to mainframes that were in different areas before that time.

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