Vanguard Airlines Inc. is investing in an IT upgrade that it hopes will bring it closer to its distributors and customers. On April 21, Vanguard will turn over management of its reservations system to Sabre Holdings Corp. under a new five-year outsourcing contract. Vanguard's previous provider, Open Skies Inc., used a message-based system to access inventory and record orders, so travel agents often had to wait 10 to 15 minutes to find out if a seat was available. Sabre's system, on the other hand, works in real time, allowing agents to complete a booking while the customer is still on the phone and making it possible to link to travel Web sites such as Sabre's Travelocity.com.
Daryl Irby, manager of information services, declined to comment on the exact dollar value of the contract, though he did say it's a "huge project" on which Vanguard has spent the past nine months, and Sabre edged out EDS to win it. In a tough economic environment, Vanguard president and CEO Jeff Potter pushed the IT project as a way "to remove any barriers to the sell," Irby says. "We felt we were making things difficult for travel agents, instead of enabling them, so it was just not convenient for the seller to sell us."
In addition to the technology Sabre will bring to the party, Vanguard has replaced most of its internal IT infrastructure, switching from dumb terminals that worked on ancient TPF code to PCs with graphical user interfaces, and bringing in new printers, ticket stock, and baggage stock. Vanguard had been able to produce only electronic tickets, and its agents produced baggage-claim tickets by hand, but Sabre technology will accommodate paper tickets and will automatically produce boarding passes and baggage tags that match the destination as travelers check in. That will make it possible for Vanguard's passengers to move from one leg of their flight to the next without stopping at a desk to get another boarding pass, as they have had to do until now.
Vanguard has spent the past two months developing a curriculum and using it to train 400 agents in 16 geographical areas on the new system. Now it's counting down to the "knife-edge cut" on the evening of April 21, when the carrier will shut down the old system one minute and bring up Sabre the next. Irby is convinced everything will run smoothly. "We've had several dress rehearsals," he says. "Now it just comes down to everybody communicating effectively."