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A computer reservations system (CRS) is a computerized system used to store and retrieve information and conduct transactions related to air travel. Originally designed and operated by airlines, CRSes were later extended for the use of travel agencies; major CRS operations that book and sell tickets for multiple airlines are known as global distribution systems. Airlines have divested most of their direct holdings to dedicated GDS companies, who make their systems accessible to consumers through Internet gateways. Modern GDSes typically allow users to book hotel rooms and rental cars as well as airline tickets or train tickets.
The Airline Reservations System (ARS) was one of the earliest changes to improve efficiency. ARS eventually evolved into the Computer Reservations System (CRS). A Computer Reservation System is used for the reservations of a particular airline and interfaces with a Global Distribution System (GDS) which supports travel agencies and other distribution channels in making reservations for most major airlines in a single system.
The history of airline reservations systems began in the late 1950s when American Airlines required a system that would allow real-time access to flight details in all of its offices, and the integration and automation of its booking and ticketing processes. As a result, Sabre (Semi-Automated Business Research Environment) was developed and launched in 1964. Sabre's breakthrough was its ability to keep inventory correct in real time, accessible to agents around the world. Prior to this, manual systems required centralized reservation centers, groups of people in a room with the physical cards that represented inventory, in this case, seats on airplanes.

The deregulation of the airline industry, in the Airline Deregulation Act, meant that airlines, which had previously operated under government-set fares ensuring airlines at least broke even, now needed to improve efficiency to compete in a free market. In this deregulated environment the ARS and its descendants became vital to the travel industry.

Users access an airline’s inventory through an availability display. It contains all offered flights for a particular city-pair with their available seats in the different booking classes.It contains all offered flights for a particular city-pair with their available seats in the different booking classes. This display contains flights, which are operated by the airline itself as well as code share flights which are operated in co-operation with another airline. The availability of seats of other airlines is updated through standard industry interfaces. Depending on the type of co-operation it supports access to the last seat (Last Seat Availability) in real-time. Reservations for individual passengers or groups are stored in a so-called Passenger Name Record (PNR). Among other data, the PNR contains personal information such as name, contact information or special services requests (SSRs) e.g. for a vegetarian meal, as well as the flights (segments) and issued tickets. Some reservation systems also allow to store customer data in profiles to avoid data re-entry each time a new reservation is made for a known passenger. In addition most systems have interfaces to CRM systems or customer loyalty applications (aka Frequent Traveler Systems). Before a flight departs the so-called Passenger Name List (PNL) is handed over to the Departure Control System that is used to check-in passengers and baggage. Reservation data such as the number of booked passengers and special service requests is also transferred to Flight Operations Systems, Crew Management and Catering Systems. Once a flight has departed the reservation system is updated with a list of the checked-in passengers (e.g. passengers who had a reservation but did not check in (No Shows) and passengers who checked in, but didn’t have a reservation (Go Shows)). Finally data needed for revenue accounting and reporting is handed over to the administrative systems.