It was seven or eight years in the making, but Google's ITA Software now has its Passenger Service System in production with an airline, albeit a relatively small one, regional carrier Cape Air.
ITA now supports reservations for all Cape Air's channels, including call center, ticket offices and the websites of Cape Air and sister brand Nantucket Airlines.
ITA -- or Google, that is -- supports the airline's reservations, inventory control system and departure control system, along with codesharing with American Airlines in the midwest of the US and United Airlines (formerly Continental Airlines) in the Caribbean and Micronesia.
Cape Air customers can search one-way, roundtrip and multi-city flights and fares and the websites have tools enabling passengers to change reservations and itineraries, the companies say.
Cape Air describes itself as one of the largest independent regional airlines in the US, handling 650,000 passengers annually to destinations in New England, New York, Florida, the MidAtlantic, the Midwest, the Caribbean, and Micronesia (as United Express or Continental Connections). The airline's fleet includes 64 Cessna 402s and two ATR-42s.
The Cessna 402s generally seat just nine passengers while the ATR-42s accommodate 46.
ITA Software has been trying to get its PSS on the map for years after the debacle in 2009, when Air Canada cancelled its four-year old project to have the company transform its reservations system.
While ITA does have a contract to provide a piece of American Airline's Jetstream project, Cape Air has the first ITA reservations system in production.
There had been a lot of speculation about whether Google, once it acquired ITA Software, would give it the green light to proceed with its PSS ambitions, and apparently the road is clear.
So Google is a search engine, advertising business, browser and mobile operating system developer -- and now you can add airline reservations system provider to the mix.
Jeremy Wertheimer, Google's vice president of travel, says talks began with Cape Air about a year ago, and the project "kicked off eight months ago."
Cape Air is headquartered in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and ITA Software's main office is in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The companies say some 300 people from both companies collaborated on the project.
Asked how he might respond to people who would scoff that ITA's first reservation system in production comes with a mere regional airline, Wertheimer says, "Wait for the next one."
"This isn't the end of the story," Wertheimer says. "This is the beginning of the story."
Wertheimer says that although news of the reservation migration became public today, other airlines, including Cape Air's partners, knew of the project and "have been following the work. Within the industry, people are aware of what's going on."
Trish Lorino, Cape Air's director of marketing, says the airline has been using Sabre for reservations since 1992, but the system wasn't integrated well for customer shopping, booking, call center operations and at "the station level."
ITA's PSS enables the airline's call center agents "to see customers' history," including past trips and upcoming flights, "right in front of them and it is easier than the old system," Lorino says.
"The whole reason we got into this was to make the experience quicker and better," Lorino adds.
Sabre spokesperson Nancy St. Pierre says "Cape Air did not use SabreSonic Web so any issues they encountered regarding their Internet booking engine and its functionality did not involve us."
"SabreSonic Customer Sales and Service is a completely integrated system, which it must be to deliver the operational efficiencies and customer service opportunities airlines need and that our customers worldwide continue to use with great success," St. Pierre says. "Our call center solution is completely integrated and supports intuitive agent workflows at every single passenger touch point."
"SabreSonic provides the capability to view historical customer travel and transaction history that easily retrievable," St. Pierre adds.
In a blog post about PSS and the deal, Wertheimer mentions that PSS is modular, scalable and gives the airline more flexibility.
Asked what differentiates ITA PSS from competitors' systems, Wertheimer said in an interview "it is not so much today that the functionality is dramatically different."
"Everything underneath [the system] was swapped out" for "a modern, distributed platform," Wertheimer says, adding that the modules communicate with one another and the airline now has the flexibility "to do new things relatively simply."
There is no social media angle to the Google-Cape Air reservations deal, although Cape Air and Nantucket Airlines launched a Google+ page in conjunction with the reservations announcement.
Wertheimer says it will be up to Cape Air to decide how it might want to integrate social media capabilities with the reservations system.