Last weekend, discount Qantas subsidiary Jetstar replaced its reservation system in a 21-hour operation, which involved temporarily moving to manual check-ins.
The airline signed a contract with Navitaire in 2004 for the supply of a reservation system. Navitaire's system at the time was OpenSkies, the default system for many budget airlines such as RyanAir, which was designed decades ago.
A new system, NewSkies, based on Microsoft's .NET framework, was on the way, but it wasn't quite ready, so Jetstar put itself onto the old one with the knowledge it would have to upgrade in the future.
The old system had reached its limit in what it could achieve, Jetstar's general manager of distribution and commercial systems Jamie Perry told ZDNet.com.au early this week, since it was run on HP 3000 servers that weren't networkable.
"We were basically on the biggest version of it we could get and we found we couldn't actually add anything else to it," Perry said. On a normal day, Jetstar would reach 60 per cent of the system's capacity. Perry guessed that within a year, the system would have reached the end of its usefulness. "It's remarkably successful and stable given how old it is, but it's just old. Obviously technology has moved on," he said.
A Jetstar IT team had been preparing for the change from the old system to the new for the last 18 months. There had also been other employees seconded from other departments so that the whole organisation would have a say in the deployment, Perry said. On the weekend where the cut-over was carried out, around 80 people were technically involved, including a team from Navitaire connected remotely.
The final day of reckoning came last Friday at 5:00pm when all new flights began to be checked in manually. Jetstar's call centre was closed and the website was shut down. By 9pm there were no more flights on the system and it was closed down after some checks at 9:30pm.
Since January, the team had been transferring old flight data onto the new system, but when it became up-to-date, each day's new data still needed to be moved. The new data for Friday began to be transferred after 9:30pm. The team had budgeted a large amount of time for this, but it was over by 8:00am the next morning.
It's remarkably successful and stable given how old it is, but it's just old.
Jetstar's Jamie Perry on OpenSkies
The reason for this swiftness was that customers had paid attention to the Jetstar announcement, checking in early online and not changing as many bookings on Friday as they normally would, meaning the airline had a third less data to transfer, Perry said.
The team spent the final hours testing and fixing problems that arose such as tax numbers being in New Zealand instead of Australian dollars. The new system went on line at 7:00pm Saturday night.
The team also had to tackle some problems once the system came online. For example, one partner had a function on their own system, which the Jetstar team hadn't known about. When the partner was connected to Jetstar via the reservation system's application programming interface, the function began spamming Jetstar's system with messages which dropped the performance of the system.
Navitaire and the Jetstar team located the source and disconnected the partner until the code could be changed.
When any residual problems have been ironed out, the core team of 20 will be charged with operating the system. Those seconded from other areas will go back to their normal jobs to become "super users" of the system, Perry said.
The new system will have some extra functions for consumers, such as a shopping trolley so that customers can buy multiple items in one transaction. There will also be a level of interaction with other systems that wasn't there before, according to Perry. For example, automated movement systems work with the reservation systems to tell Jetstar employees where the planes are at all times. Previously, the information would have been entered in manually.