Although many consider me “antique hardware,” I am referring to computer hardware. The 1970s was a decade of great change for the airline industry. The first wide-bodied aircraft took to the airways, airline deregulation came about, one airport, Love Field, was reregulated with the Wright Amendment, and the first hardware resembling today’s computers began appearing in airline offices.
Surprisingly, the common teletype seems to have made the big leap to computer-like operation first. Above is the AT&T Dataspeed 40 teletype terminal. For years, teletypes provided the most immediate written communication for stock brokers, news agencies, and airlines. The traditional teletype machines had heavy duty, typewriter-like printers that clanged and banged out messages all day and all night long. When important news broke, bells would go off. For extremely important news, five bells would ring alerting people to come read the message immediately. The Dataspeed 40 changed all of that. (Doesn’t that name sound like something Clark Griswold would say? “Come on kids, I plotted our trip on the Dataspeed 40?”) Instead of typing out a message on a ticker tape and feeding that into the teletype as traditional teletypes required, the operator could now compose a message on a television screen and hit send. The Dataspeed 40’s printer was high speed for its day, and it was a lot quieter than earlier machines because it substituted an early type of electronic print head for the noisy moving type. It’s amazing to think of all the advances the Bell Labs made, and this is one of them. This photo appears to have been taken at Headquarters, possibly the Regal Row facility.
One of Southwest’s first reservations systems was the infamous Bunker-Ramo. The user sets featured a tiny screen with letters to the side that represented Southwest cities. The information contained in the reservations was very rudimentary, just the flights, number of seats, and names. The photo above is of only part of the Bunker-Ramo main frame. The first big box behind the Employee contains the flight inventories, and the box next to it, the names of the passengers. It appears that she is typing some type of instruction. Keep in mind, every machine you see in this room is part of the Bunker-Ramo mainframe.
Moving to the next photo, she has opened the lid to the flight inventory box, and we see a large reel of magnetic tape. A second tape sits on top of the adjacent box (the flight names box). The tape containers are marked with the initials “NCR,” which stand for the National Cash Register Company. NCR also made the cash registers that our Airport Employees used to sell tickets. A Bunker-Ramo user set is under her left arm.
This November 1977 Dallas Ticket Counter photo (above) shows off both the last version of the NCR cash registers (also known as a “Love Ticket Machine”) that airports used to sell and dispense tickets and a Bunker-Ramo set seen at the bottom of the photo. At this point, the ticketing system was independent of the reservations system. The Ticket Agent would confirm through the Bunker-Ramo that a Customer had a reservation, and then the Agent would sell the ticket on the cash register. The tickets only had destination and fare on them.
At the reservations centers, the Reservations Sales Agents were equipped with rotary dial phones and a Bunker-Ramo set. It looks like each position has a red binder with tabbed information.
And, we close with this look at the Dallas Operations Office during the same period. More than any of the other photos in this post, this view shows the transition between the chalk and paper era and the new digital age. The chalk flight board is on the far wall, and the monitors showing each gate are on the ledge in front of the Operations Agents. As in the photo of the Reservation Center, the phones are all rotary. A Bunker-Ramo set is at the very bottom of the photo, and a printer is next to it. Printers back then (including the Dataspeed 40) used rolls of paper, and you had to tear the messages with a straightedge. The Operations Agent at the bottom is looking at what might be a load message, and the paper beneath that contains hourly weather observations from airports around the system. The printer is probably attached to a Dataspeed 40 machine, since the Bunker-Ramo didn’t have the ability to generate messages like these. Another important “electronic” item is the electric pencil sharpener on the shelf in front of the middle Ops Agent, as most forms and calculations were completed in pencil.
It really is amazing how far computer hardware has come in a relatively short time. Computers were giant, temperamental machines that filled a room. As late as 1990, a computer/phone/camera that fit in your pocket was something from the comic strips. When I was with Delta, the smaller airports didn’t begin receiving CRT computer sets until 1980, but the operations computer terminals were still IBM Selectrics. Even after the changeover to computer screens, computer terminals in reservations centers and at the airport were specialized, bulky sets showing data in black and white, well into the 1990s. Who would have ever thought a Customer could book and buy travel online back then?