Flashback 1980 – Mini-computers were anything but small

 Retrospective – Part 2 of a 4 part series

(for Part 1 click HERE)
The year was 1980 and
the major manufacturers of computers had already started on their mission to change the world and make our
lives easier by bringing them down in price and in size to be practical for small businesses.  Well, change the world
they did – at least my world.   
(The jury
is still out on the “making our lives easier” bit, or at minimum giving us more time, as I sit here at 1225am on a Friday night writing my blog). 
I had taken a job with a
company that sold accounting systems, quite literally without ever seeing even
a demo of what it could do.  But I did understand the problem that it solved and that made all the difference in being able to embrace the task at hand.
Data General
Nova 3

Armed with a
large three-ring binder that was the Operating Manual for the system, I set out
from Milwaukee to Chicago on Amtrak 3 days a week to try to sell my wares. 

When one of my clients wanted
to actually see a demo, I had to arrange a trip for the three of them (and me),
to go to Denver.  I decided to go out
three days early to learn a little bit more about the system before the
prospects arrived.  I must have learned
well, because the owners asked me to move to Denver and head up implementation.  To be fair, I should tell you that I was actually the first full time
employee, after Marcy, who was the receptionist, answering client questions as
our help desk.  

I traveled around the country
Monday through Friday, converting agencies quite literally from a shoebox full
of receipts and a box of invoices, to a state of the art accounting system
running on a Data General Nova 3 computer that resembled a large refrigerator.   

If the ICOT terminal in the Whitefish Bay
agency was the Jetsons, this was 2001 Space Odyssey.  It had flashing
lights on the front that
flickered whenever you posted cash receipts or requested that it print a
check.  All it needed was a voice like HAL 9000 and a protagonist named Dave.

The system, known as Travelink, could even print out the
“adding machine tape” of tickets to report to ARC.  Invoices and statements were a breeze and it
could even remind you of the dates for deposits and final payments on tours,
groups and for cruises.     
The amazing
thing is that the entire program fit on a 10 megabyte hard disk pack that was
bigger than an extra large Dominos pizza and about 3 inches thick.  
I still remember carrying
it through airports (that’s right, there were no security checkpoints with xray
machines) and putting it in the overhead when I went to an agency for the first
time, or if we needed to take an upgrade to them.   

Once I had installed all the
systems that had been sold, I magically became the VP of Sales.  We then hired Suzanne to replace me in
installations.  She was employee number
Within a year, we had doubled
our account base and at a trade show, I was next to the Agency Data Systems
booth, talking to Jim, the VP of Sales and Service.  He offered me a job.  Within a month, I was in Tampa, Florida for
training on ADS.  Within a few weeks,
American Airlines had acquired the company and I found myself moving to Dallas,
The year was 1982.  By this time, most agencies had one of the
Central Reservation Systems (CRS) sold by United, Delta, American, TWA or
Eastern and many actually had three dedicated printers, one for tickets, one
for invoices and one for boarding passes. 
Some agencies actually had multiple CRS terminals side by side on their
desk, often to service new corporate clients that used a system other than their
primary system. 

The CRS (aka GDS) groups eventually
spun out of the airlines as separate divisions and of course later became known
as GDS companies.  Their new moniker (Global Distribution Systems) came from the international expansion of their parents.   In many cases, the
“child” became more profitable and valuable than their airline parents, many of
whom filed for bankruptcy or who were acquired.   

By 1990, the GDS systems now contained
the inventory of not only the host airline and its close marketing partners,
but all of the systems included hundreds of airlines globally and also had
hotels and car rentals and were adding new types of inventory every day, including tour companies and cruise lines.  If a supplier wanted to reach the 50,000+ travel agencies worldwide that made up the various GDS company networks, GDS participation became a business imperative. 

now had consolidated, comparative shopping across travel suppliers in multiple
categories, easy to read invoices, tickets and boarding passes (yes, you could
still issue advance boarding passes then) and the information that was fed to
the accounting system was consistent with what was in the PNR and if the agent
did their job, it was complete and relatively clean.  

There were still
some bookings that took place by phone or the new FAX technology, but it became
commonplace to record these manual bookings in the Passenger Name Record (PNR) with a passive segment (GK),
so that the agent could produce a complete, consolidated itinerary and could
ticket the manual segments.  This also
allowed us to have everything in the back office systems for reporting and
accounting purposes. 

I missed the simplicity of my
days at Bay Travel, but had to admit that the addition of technology to the
equation had indeed made life easier.   
By the mid-80s, the refrigerators had been replaced with smaller, micro-computers that could sit on a desktop and since Sabre had by then fully “adopted” the ADS group, we were able to launch an industry first called Sabre Two-Way™, where you could use the accounting system terminal to switch over to Sabre, which meant that the bookkeeper could retrieve PNRS and actually do the research themselves and cleanse the data that was incomplete in the PNR.  
Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles.  
God was smiling and all was right with the world.  
But wait, down the hall and around the corner, Terry Jones and his team were cooking up new products that ran on Prodigy and CompuServe and they actually put EAASYSabre (which was anything but) and Commercial Sabre in the hands of consumers and corporate travelers.  
The revolution was about to begin.  Man your battle stations.  
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog, number 3 in the series.   The title will be a line from my favorite movie, In Harm’s Way with John Wayne.  Danger was imminent.   “This is not a drill.  This is not a drill”. 
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