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Southwest Airlines to Test Ticketless Travel

From Times Wire Services

Southwest Airlines Co. said Tuesday that it will test a system in which passengers won’t need to hold tickets to fly.

Starting Aug. 22, Southwest will test ticketless travel among four cities: Dallas; Houston; Corpus Christi, Tex., and Little Rock, Ark. If the system is adopted on all its routes, Southwest would be the first major airline to abandon the traditional ticketing process.

Southwest spokesman Ed Stewart compared the new system to ones used by car rental agencies.

“You show up at the ticket counter and you have a confirmation number, and we give you a boarding pass and off you go,” he said.

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Analysts have speculated for months that Dallas-based Southwest would develop a ticketless system by the end of the year. If successful, the new system will make it easier for travel agents to book reservations on Southwest.

Southwest has been tinkering with a new ticketing system since it was bumped off three computerized reservations systems used by travel agents, starting in May, because it refused to pay booking fees. Southwest said the flap hasn’t hurt its revenue but that it has taken the opportunity to look at new ways of selling seats.

Southwest did not release details on how the system will work.

The test will be offered mainly to Southwest’s frequent fliers and some corporate travelers. Travel agencies in the test markets will also be invited to participate.

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Southwest said it will decide whether to carry out a systemwide test in September based on the results.

“We are very excited because this test is consistent with Southwest’s reputation for being an innovator and trendsetter in the travel industry,” Southwest Chairman Herbert Kelleher said in a statement. “Furthermore, (it) gives us the opportunity to reduce any perceived dependency on the computer reservations systems owned by our competitors.”

Those systems are System One, owned by Continental Airlines, and Apollo, owned primarily by United Airlines and USAir. When the systems stopped letting travel agents print out tickets for Southwest flights, some agents had to resort to writing tickets by hand. Worldspan, another reservations system, also changed its listing method so it was less convenient for travel agents to see information about Southwest flights and fares.

Southwest pays to be listed by the largest computerized reservations system, American Airlines’ Sabre.

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