Orbitz Tech Specs

By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

Snafus over schedules and fares have lost the online travel service customers. If Orbitz can't keep its data straight, it'll never take off.

Orbitz Tech Specs

Orbitz was founded at the very height of the Internet stock-market boom, and its bet is very much an Internet-era bet: that it can use technology to provide the best, most automated and lowest-cost customer service in the travel industry. Its powerful search engine, which is built 80% in Java and runs across 400 Linux x86 servers, can return an average of 200 flight choices on 15 carriers in a single search of a reservation system. Its layered architecture allows its servers to be quickly swapped in and out.

Software automatically checks availability three times during the ticketing process—during searching, during booking, and just before the reservation is made. Customers who have successfully purchased tickets are routed through Orbitz's customer-care center, which monitors weather and news that affect travelers. Orbitz sends out around 70,000 alerts per day to travelers or their designated recipients, says service-center director Scott Ackerman. In Orbitz's latest survey, 96% of travelers said they received information—whether by e-mail, cell phone, pager, personal digital assistant, or voice mailbox—before they began their trip.

"The airlines can do some of this, but I don't see them watching what's going on in the world," says Ackerman, who spent 20 years working in the airline industry before joining Orbitz. "I think the airlines want us to do that—that's why they entered this partnership."

Ackerman supervises 13 of Orbitz's 200 or so employees, working elbow to elbow in a room crammed with televisions and computer screens. An ex-reporter monitors world events; a 21-year veteran of the airlines handles customer feedback. Flight Explorer software from Flight Dimensions shows every plane in the sky at any given moment, allowing Orbitz's two former air traffic controllers to monitor individual flights. FAA flight data is available to anyone, although people experienced in interpreting that data can get information to customers faster, Ackerman says. The wind blowing from a certain direction could delay flights, as could a runway shortage at a major airport.

This article was originally published on 2002-10-06
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

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