POSTED ON April 11, 2024

Flight booking process – airline ticketing: key structure, steps and systems


It only takes 15 minutes for a customer to finish a flight booking process, from the moment they start filling in their search details to receiving a ticket in their mailbox.

This is thanks to flight booking engine. But, behind the scenes, airlines go through a series of events and rely on various systems to ensure a smooth ticket issuance process and verify the identity of the passenger. 

So, from an airline perspective, how do flight booking process occur and what are main steps involved in? Let’s discover. 

I. Structure of airline distribution system in flight booking process

1. Passenger service system in the flight booking process

A passenger service system (PSS) in the flight booking process is a collection of software modules that facilitate communication and interactions between an airline or carrier and its customers. It is an essential part of an airline’s IT infrastructure and flight booking process. It consists of three main modules: 


_ Central or airline reservation system (CRS) 

_ Airline inventory control system (ICS) 

_ Departure control system (DCS) 

In addition, the PSS incorporates or integrates with a revenue management tool, which leverages historical data to establish pricing strategies and rules. It also helps streamline and automate various passenger-related processes, ensuring smooth operations for airlines.  

PSS is crucial for airlines, particularly as they enable efficient management of end-to-end operations and enhance the passenger experience. It handles tasks ranging from ticket reservations to boarding, and any failures in the system can result in significant financial losses for airlines. 

Some notable players are:  

_ Bravo PSS passenger service solutions 

_ Amadeus Altéa Reservation Desktop Web for airlines 

_ New Skies

2. Central reservation system 

Another key component in flight booking process is central reservation system (CRS) – a vital component of an airline or computer reservation system. It serves as a centralized storage system for crucial flight-related information, such as: 

_ Schedule 

_ Fare 

_ Rules for each booking class 

_ Passenger name records (PNRs) 

_ E-ticket 

The CRS is responsible for: 

_ Managing room rates and availability 

_ Distribution of inventory 

_Integration with booking engine and channel manager 

While some airlines operate their own CRS as part of their overall passenger service system (PSS), many carriers opt to host and manage their reservations through one of the Global Distribution Systems (GDSs). 

A CRS is also a pivotal technology for any travel business that sells its inventory online, including hotels and airlines. It allows managers to have control over reservations across all distribution platforms, ensuring efficient management of available inventory. 

3. Passenger name record 

A passenger name record (PNR) or booking file is a digital document that stores comprehensive information about an individual traveler or a group of travelers, including: 

_ Passenger information 

_ Passenger travel itinerary 

PNRs are used to:  

_ Facilitate check-in 

_ Allocate seats 

_ Handle special requests 

_ Provide a seamless travel experience 

Each PNR is assigned a distinct code known as a booking reference or record locator, which enables easy retrieval of the file from the central reservation system (CRS) database.  

When a traveler purchases a flight, they receive this unique code via email, allowing them to access their flight details and conveniently check-in online. The PNR serves as a crucial reference point for managing and organizing travel information for a smooth and hassle-free experience.

4. New distribution capability 

The majority of flights are typically distributed through the global distribution system (GDS), which necessitates the exchange of data between various systems using the outdated EDIFACT protocol. But, this limits airlines’ ability to gather detailed passenger information and offer a wide rage of ancillary services (such as in0flight meals or excess baggage options) to their customers. Moreover, airlines are required to pay additional fees for GDS services.  

To address these limitations, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) introduced the New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard. NDC allows travel systems to seamlessly share data with one another using standard travel APIs and the more content-friendly XML protocol. 

With NDC, airlines gain the ability to access customer information, personalize the user experience, and directly sell ancillaries and seats from a single source, bypassing many third-party intermediaries.  

While many airlines and IT companies have embraced NDC capabilities, the GDS remains the primary distribution channel in the industry. However, the introduction of NDC has paved the way for a more innovative and customer-centric approach to flight distribution and ancillary services while streamline flight booking process. 

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II. Key flight booking process steps


1. Flight search 

Passengers can search for flight information through indirect channels and direct channels.  

Indirect channel: online travel agency (OTA), GDS, Metasearch engine 

In the indirect channel, users typically search for flights using a flight booking engine on a third-party website or through a GDS terminal. Once the desired flight is selected, a third-party intermediary sends the booking request to GDS, which then accesses the airline’s central reservation system (CRS) to complete the flight booking process.  

Direct channel: Airline eCommerce website 

In the direct channel, travelers have the option to book flights directly from the airline’s own eCommerce website. The flight booking process will bypass the intermediary GDS and goes straight to the airline’s CRS. This allows travelers to interact directly with the airline and simplifies the flight booking process by eliminating the need for third-party involvement.

2. Flight booking 

As beforementioned, CRS performs essential functions such as inventory and reservation management, PNR generation, payment integration, customer information management, booking and cancellation management, refund management, and email notifications. 

That’s why during the flight booking process, customers have the option to select their seats. However, airlines often charge an additional fee for this service. Alternatively, seat selection can be done during online check-in or assigned randomly by the airline. 

Once the customer completes the ticket purchase, the CRS generates a unique PNR. This code contains the traveler’s information and itinerary details. The PNR serves as a reference point for the airline to track the passenger’s record and exchange information with other airlines if necessary.

3. Ancillary booking in the flight booking process

Ancillary revenues significantly rose from 42.6 billion USD in 2013 to over 102 billion USD in 2022 globally.  

Ancillary services in the airline industry refer to additional services that can be requested or purchased by travelers to boost flight experience. These services include various options such as seat selection, extra baggage allowance, in-flight meals, and access to airport lounges  

When a traveler adds ancillary services during their flight booking process, a merchandising system generates a special service request number (SSR). This SSR serves as a message to the airline, indicating the traveler’s request for a specific ancillary service that is typically not included in the standard ticket.  

Merchandising system is also responsible for dynamic pricing and discount offers. It handles services like changing the date or name on the ticket for a fee.  

Ancillary services can vary between airlines, and their availability and pricing may be subject to factors such as frequent flyer status and fare class. Some airlines may charge for services like seat selection, extra legroom, or additional baggage, while others may include them in the standard fare.

4. Use airline loyalty programs if have 

Loyalty program operations are managed by airline merchandising systems. 

When someone becomes a member of a frequent-flyer or airline loyalty program, they can use the points they have earned from their flights to purchase additional services from the airline. These points can be exchanged for discounts or benefits, such as upgrading to business class.  

Depending on the airline, customers can either log in to their accounts when purchasing tickets directly from the airline’s website or use a loyalty program participant’s number to make bookings through third-party platforms. These systems also reserve a specific number of seats for frequent flyers in the CRS.  

Now, let’s talk about fares and payment. To receive a ticket with a PNR, also known as a booking confirmation number, a traveler must pay the fare. The fare includes the cost of the seat, taxes, and any applicable third-party service fees. It may also include charges for ancillary services. 

The allocation of fees between airlines, GDS, OTA, and customers follows a specific process: 

_ Airlines pay GDSs for their distribution services. 

_ GDSs, in turn, pay OTAs to finalize the sale. 

_ Travel agents who book through the GDS terminal pay a fee for using its services. 

_ Customers who book via an OTA may sometimes need to pay a service fee.

5. Payment process of the flight booking process 

If a customer makes a direct booking, they pay the airline’s payment gateway directly. Once the payment is processed, the CRS is notified and generates a booking confirmation number. On the other hand, if the booking is made through an OTA or a metasearch website, they use their own payment gateway for processing the payment. 

A payment process is a service provided by a third-party that manages financial transactions between customers and merchants. It not only processes payments, but also ensures the security of data. 

The main functions of a payment gateway include: 

_ Verifying if the customer has enough funds to make the payment 

_ Transferring the funds to the merchant’s account 

_ Processing regular payments for purchases 

_ Returning money to the customer 

_ Refunding funds that have not been captured 

One advantage of using a payment gateway is that customers can book and pay for their purchases in one place.  

However, there are a couple of disadvantages.  

Firstly, processes like cancellation and refund are handled through the OTA side, rather than the CRS. Travelers booking through OTAs may have to pay an additional fee. 

Once the payment has been processed by the payment gateway, the airline’s CRS can generate a booking confirmation number and issue an electronic ticket. 

6. Ticket selection during the flight booking process

A flight ticket serves as an agreement between a traveler and an airline carrier. Therefore, ticketing is a crucial part of the flight booking process. If there are any errors in the ticket, such as an incorrect name, the traveler will not be able to board the flight. 

Ticketing refers to the process of securing a paid sear on a flight, ensuring that it is reserved for an individual. This is accomplished through a PNR.  

A PNR with 6-digit code found on an electronic ticket, allows airlines to validate the reserved seat. In cases where a trip consists of multiple flights operated by different airlines, an interline booking is made.  

To facilitate this, airlines establish interline commercial agreements for codeshare flights. Based on this agreement, the participating airlines issue a single ticket with a single PNR. The ticket is issued by one of the airlines as specified in the agreement. 

Sometimes, a single PNR for segmented flight occurs, called a super PNR. In such cases, the system creates multiple PNRs that are consolidated into a single code. Each number within this code represents specific details about the seat, such as the class and included ancillaries. 

Once the ticketing process is complete, the traveler receives a booking confirmation from either the OTA or the airline. This confirmation includes the traveler’s name, flight schedule, airport IATA codes, and the ticket price. Also, the traveler receives an e-ticket with a reference to the airline’s PNR. Then, the traveler will need to present it. 

7. Check-in and flight boarding in the flight booking process 

Now, in this step of flight booking process, we deal with the airline’s Departure control system (DCS).  

The DCS is a component of the PSS and is connected to the CRS as well as airport devices such as self-check-in kiosks, agent software, baggage drop, and even immigration control. 

It is responsible for processing all check-in and boarding-related procedures, starting with ticket validation. DCS also handles customs and border security reservations, aircraft weight optimization, and cargo handling. 

During the check-in process, a traveler is required to provide their PNR and name, allowing the system to match it with existing records in the CRS and assign a seat. The check-in process may vary slightly between online and offline scenarios. 

Online check-in 

Online check-in typically becomes available 48 hours prior to the flight, although this may vary depending on the airline. A traveler enters the details from their e-ticket on the airline’s website or app and gains access to an aircraft seat map, where they can choose a specific seat.  

If the user does not select, the system will randomly assign a free seat and issue an electronic boarding pass. The same principle applies to check-in kiosks in flight booking process.  

Airport check-in 

When checking in at the airport, a person presents their e-ticket to an airport agent at the check-in counter. The agent then enters the necessary details, reserves a seat or multiple seats for segmented flights on a seat map, and checks the baggage. As a result, the agent issues and prints a boarding pass.

8. Handling baggage 

Ai the end of flight booking process, to ensure the smooth handling and tracking of baggage, airlines have integrated their systems through APIs. When a passenger checks in their baggage, it is sent directly to the baggage handling system, where it is scanned and assigned a unique code. 

Once the baggage handling system scans the code, it is registered in the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) worldwide baggage tracking system. This allows for real-time tracking of the baggage throughout its journey. 

Airports also assign a distinct 10-digit code to each item. This code is generated by specialized baggage management systems such as SITA Bag Manager or ARINC SmartBag, based on the flight’s itinerary. Each time a passenger checks in their luggage through an airport agent or a self-service drop, a baggage tag with a unique code is issued and attached to the baggage. This ensures that the baggage can be easily identified and tracked throughout its transportation process. 

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III. Pre-requisites to issue airline tickets in the flight booking process 

Ticketing in the airline industry is a crucial step in flight booking process, and airlines have strict requirements for who can issue tickets on their behalf. This is primarily driven by financial considerations. 

Airlines aim to have a global network of agents and booking sites to sell their tickets. But, they also want to ensure that this process is controlled and regulated. That’s why accrediting organizations have been established to act as payment intermediaries between airlines and agents. These organizations provide a payment guarantee to airlines for tickets sold by agents, so that agents can sell tickets on behalf of the airlines. This means that sellers must be accredited to sell tickets on behalf of an airline. 

There are two major organizations that provide ticketing accreditation on a global scale: 

International Air Transport Association (IATA) 

The IATA is the largest international airline association in the world, representing nearly 300 member airlines from over 170 countries. One of IATA’s key responsibilities is managing the Billing and Settlement Plan (BSP).  

BSP is a payment processing system that collects and distributes payments and commissions among member airlines and agents. For agents registered outside of the United States to issue tickets for any IATA airline, they must be IATA accredited. 

Corporation for Airline Reporting (CAR) 

The CAR is another significant organization that provides ticketing accreditation in flight booking process, specifically for agents registered in the United States or US territories. CAR has over 200 member airlines and acts as a payment intermediary between agents and airlines through their payment processor.  

Agents registered in the United States must be Airworthiness Review Certificate (ARC) accredited to issue tickets for CAR member airlines. If agents want to sell tickets directly, being accredited by either IATA or ARC is mandatory. 

These accreditation requirements ensure that the ticketing process is secure and reliable for both airlines and passengers, while also maintaining financial accountability between airlines and agents.

IV. How flight booking system benefits process of ticket booking

If we see from the customer’s end, an airline booking system offers a passenger with various benefits.  

1. Quick flight booking facility with flight booking process

An airline booking system provides customers with a seamless and efficient way to book flights. With just a few clicks, they can browse through available flights, select their preferred itinerary, and complete the flight booking process in a matter of minutes through the flight booking process.  

This saves valuable time and effort compared to traditional booking methods in the flight booking process. 

2. Luring discounts and offers 

Passengers can easily get discounts and special offers with an airline booking system, including promotional fares, discounted group bookings, or seasonal deals in the flight booking process.  

3. Immediate money return on cancellation 

Plans can change unexpectedly. In such cases, an airline reservation system proves beneficial as it often allows customers to cancel their bookings and receive immediate refunds. This helps customers to recover their money quickly and conveniently in the flight booking process. 

4. Saving time and efforts 

One of the most significant advantages of airline booking system is the time and efforts it saves for customers. Instead of spending hours visiting travel agencies or making phone calls for flight bookings, customers can conveniently access the reservation system from the comfort of their own homes or while on the go in the flight booking process. 

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V. Enhance your flight booking process with Adamo’s booking engine development services 

Adamo, as a premier travel and hospitality software development company, along with the booking engine software acting among the travel portal development solutions, with our extensive experience in the travel and hospitality industry, prioritizes three key factors to deliver exceptional results: 

Timely market launch: Adamo understands the importance of prompt market entry. We strive to ensure that our clients can quickly launch their products or services, allowing them to capitalize on market opportunities without delay. 

Innovative software solutions: We pride ourselves on providing lucrative and innovative software solutions tailored to the specific needs of our clients in the travel industry. Our expertise allows us to develop cutting-edge technology that enhances efficiency and delivers a seamless user experience. 

Efficient resource allocation: Adamo recognizes the significance of proper resource allocation for project success. We assist our clients in effectively allocating their human resources, ensuring that the right skills are utilized at the right time to maximize productivity and achieve project goals. 

So, if you want to promote your flight booking process with our feature-rich booking engine solutions, don’t hesitate to contact us.  

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