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First Automated Canadian Airline Ticket
by Mike Nash, Prince George, British Columbia – October 2021

Below is an image of the first trial automated Canadian airline ticket that I printed nearly half a century ago in February 1974 while testing Air Canada’s new ticket printing computer software.

The ticket stock came from the now long defunct U.S. carrier, Braniff, as we hadn’t yet reached the stage of having our own and Braniff was kind enough to let us have a box of theirs. Braniff and United Airlines were the only other carriers working on automated ticket printing at the time and I had earlier visited each of them in Dallas and Denver respectively to compare notes. In the years before deregulation, airlines were more disposed to share technology ideas.

Airline tickets 50 years ago were incredibly labour intensive to price and write by hand, especially for overseas or complex travel itineraries. This was amply demonstrated within a month or so of going live when an early-implementation glitch with the new system caused a near riot during the morning rush hour at Dorval airport. Within just a few short weeks, ticket counter agents had forgotten enough about calculating and hand-writing tickets, plus sufficient numbers of staff had already been reassigned, to create huge lineups and missed or delayed flights.

The project was an automation milestone in three important ways:

  1. We were working with early, cutting-edge microprocessor software that our engineers in Montreal, notably Robert Piette, had developed for Air Canada’s second generation CRT computer terminals.
  2. Physical airline tickets back then were almost like negotiable instruments and it was essential that we had tight control on what was being printed, in particular avoiding accidental duplicates. We had to achieve this in a network that was optimized for speed by means of a free-wheeling protocol that relied on agents to request a retransmission if something didn’t look right. During the first demo that I witnessed at UAL’s computer headquarters in Denver, to their embarrassment out popped a duplicate, a situation I’m happy to say we avoided at Air Canada.
  3. The folks who wrote the computer application programs that created the final ticket content had to find ways to automate the very complex fare calculations.

Air Canada’s first automated ticket printing went live in the spring or early summer of 1974, and it wasn’t long before we were working on the next generation of software as part of a network controller project contracted with Collins Radio of Dallas, Texas. My telecommunications software team and I spent some eight months working in Dallas on that project before the Texans moved to Toronto for final testing and implementation. It wasn’t long after this that Air Canada was looking at using the same or similar software to allow passengers to print their own boarding passes, and the future began to come into focus.

Those were interesting days with lots of fun parties.

tmb 550 Nash ticket

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