The Internet really began to enter the mainstream consciousness in the early 1990s. This meant that commercial business started looking towards the new technology and what it could do for them. Among other things that arrived was the first airline website.
Today any company worth its salt has a website, but it was not the case at the time. The new medium took a while to evolve and settle down into what we know today.
The First Airline Website
Once upon a time, there was an airline in Canada called Canadian Pacific Air Lines, who became known as CP Air for short. Pacific Western Airlines purchased them in 1987 and they became Canadian Airlines International.
In April 1994, Canadian launched the first airline web site (it was two words back then!) at www.cdnair.ca. Grant Fengstad is credited with the implementation of the first airline website.
Not only was it first, it also took a leap forward over other websites, which usually provided only marketing and content material. Canadian Airlines’ site was transactional, with things we take for granted now such as real time fares, schedules and flight departure and arrival information.
Unfortunately the original 1994 version is not available find in the Internet Archive. However, the 1997 version you can see in the images gives a little flavour as to how the 1990s Internet appeared.
How About Some Other Web Sites From Back Then?
Another defunct airline, Ansett Australia, also had a 1990s web site. The version I was able to find hails from October 1996 and the landing page amused me quite a bit.
Not only have they won Australia’s best tourism web site of 1996, but the site is best viewed with Netscape 3.0! Netscape was the Google Chrome of its day, unfairly beaten out of existence when Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer into Windows in the late 1990s.
Also, look at what you can do? The “new” web site lets you “reserve flights and accommodation through our reservations request form”. Amazing! You need to remember that the way you booked a flight at this time was to ring the airline or a travel agent.
What Do You Mean, A Form?
Forms were the only way to pass information from a web page to a human at the other side who could process it. For example, if you wanted to join Canadian Airlines’ frequent flyer programme, this is the form you would have to fill in online.
The information you put into this page would be e-mailed to someone as text. That someone would then have to manually input the form data into a membership system. At the time, these things were not automatic like they are today.
How About Aer Lingus, Qantas and British Airways?
Aer Lingus have the best example of what original web sites looked like. This is their site on 23 October 1996, and it is quite basic. The fact it says it is best viewed in Netscape 1.2 or Internet Explorer 2.0 or above shows its age. It even has “Other Interesting Sites” which is a links page. It includes their codeshare partners Delta, KLM and Sabena, plus lots of Irish tourism links.
Qantas at the time were also pretty basic compared to today. You can check various things online, but you still can’t make a flight booking at all.
Just a couple of years later, in 1999, flight bookings are available, as you can see offered on the British Airways web site from the time. The design is still leaning on what came before.
Interestingly, BA have a copyright in 1994 at the bottom of their page. It looks like they also went online the same year as Canadian Airlines, even if they weren’t the first airline website.
Remember Technical Requirements Like This?
This is from the Qantas web site, I believe for the timetable programme that you could download and install. It took me back when I saw it so here it is. Remember dial-up modems? They need at least 9600 baud for the software! Even my first modem was faster than that at 14,400 baud, while the people with money at the time used super fast 28,800 baud modems.
8 megabyes of RAM? Today you’d be looking at 8 gigabytes of RAM in a decent laptop. Nice to see it worked with both a 16 colour VGA display or a monochrome display and both the Windows 3.1 and Win95 systems! How times have changed.
So you have your answer, Canadian Airlines created the first airline website. It didn’t take long for other carriers to follow and everything has evolved to the all singing, all dancing web sites we have today.
With technology improving all the time, in another 25 years I expect people will look back on today’s Internet thinking how primitive it is. Hopefully anyway!
Do you remember the first airline website or others from that era? Any specific memories of using them? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.
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All other images from the Internet Archive.
You Internet hipsters and your fancy, new-fangled web browsers! I used to subscribe to the old CompuServe service back in the 80’s with my 9600 dial-up modem. Among its many services were Eaasy Sabre (owned by AA) and TravelShopper (owned by TWA) which allowed you to search many airlines at once and purchase tickets. They would then be mailed to you or if you were in a rush picked up at your local airline office.
Hahaha! That’s us! Thanks for that, I was not aware of the fact you could purchase tickets on CompuServ, which is a pretty cool thing to know. You would have been on the cutting edge of technology with a 9600 modem at that time. The speed! 🙂 Great to know, I really appreciate that.
In 1991my boss brought into the office his new laptop. He pointed out a few features and sites, among them AA.com. While you could do little else other than get some travel information, it was nevertheless a genuine travel site.
Hello Trent, really interesting topic one which ought to have been offered to national media. Must have taken so much time to compile. In a way rail sites have followed their airline counterparts … only now have the train firms (here and in mainland Europe) developed decent, although still not perfect, booking sites. As for the airlines you ought to have noted the LCCs who were the first I believe with simple, consumer-friendly websites from the mid-1990s. Of course they could do this because they sell and simple product and did not interline (at that time).
Yes, it seems Southwest Airlines had online bookings in 1997 – “Ticketless Travel” and a whole bunch of instructions around supported browsers, how quickly you needed to complete your reservation and so on. Perhaps a follow up – “Who was the first airline to allow online bookings?” would be something to do next. Thanks for the comment, Alex.
Indeed. BA’s Go was “ticketless” when it launched in 1998. Go never had paper tickets. Our (myself and family) early LCC flights at that time were all with Go on the Anglo-Scottish domestic routes. We just needed to walk up to the check-in counter, quote our family name and then the bags would be tagged and a seat assignment offered. Later of course all LCCs gradually charged for these frills.
Yes, I remember hearing about Go. Makes sense all round, really.