Flight Booking Process: Structure, Steps, and Key Systems

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When a person books a flight, less than 15 minutes pass between their starting to fill in the search form and a ticket appearing in their mailbox. From the airline side, it involves many events and systems to issue a ticket and make sure that the right person will board the plane. In this article, we describe the flight booking pipeline and explain the main processes supporting it.

Airline distribution: How does it work?

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Airline distribution pipeline


  • Airline Tariff Publishing Company (ATPCO) for public and non-public fare collection and distribution, and fare-related content;
  • airline Passenger Service System (PSS) for inventory and ancillary services.

The key GDS providers are Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport. They provide not only flights but also car rental, hotel, and ancillary booking. To learn more about GDS, watch our video below.



With some basics covered, let’s describe the chain of processes between the moment of booking and baggage reclaim at the destination airport. The whole process of this traveler/airline interaction can be divided into five steps: seat booking, ancillary booking, payment, ticket confirmation, check-in and boarding, and baggage reclaim.

Flight booking

1. Flight search

Direct channel: Airline eCommerce website. If a traveler books directly from the provider, the process skips the whole GDS part and goes straight to the CRS.

2. Reservation management

Ancillary booking

3. Choosing additional services

Besides selling extra services, Merchandising Systems are also responsible for dynamic pricing and discount offers. Some systems also include such services as changing the date and name on the ticket. An example of such a system is a Global Merchandising System by Amadeus. It can retrieve a traveler’s PNR and amend it for a fee.

4. Using loyalty programs

Fares and payment

The allocation of fees between airlines, GDSs, OTAs, and customers works the following way:

  1. Airlines pay GDSs for distribution
  2. GDSs then pay OTAs to close the sale
  3. Travel agents booking from the GDS terminal pay a fee for using its service
  4. Customers booking via an OTA sometimes pay a service fee

If it’s direct booking, a customer pays the airline’s payment gateway directly and as soon as the payment is processed, a CRS is notified and generates a booking confirmation number. If the booking is made via OTA or metasearch website, they use their own payment gateway.

5. Payment processing

As soon as the payment was processed by the payment gateway, the airline’s CRS can generate a booking confirmation number and issue an electronic version of a ticket. Let’s take a look at this process.


6. Personal name record (PNR) generation

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Emirates e-tickets example. Source: Scribd

7. Super PNR generation

Check-in and boarding

8. Check-in

Online check-in. Online check-in usually becomes available 48 hours before the flight, but it depends upon the airline. A traveler enters details from an e-ticket at an airline website or an app and gets access to an aircraft seat map to choose a particular seat. If a user doesn’t choose it, the system randomly assigns a free one and issues an electronic boarding pass. The same principle works for check-in kiosks.

Airport check-in. Checking-in at the airport, a person brings an e-ticket to the airport agent at the check-in counter, so that they can enter the details and reserve a seat, or several seats on different planes if it’s a segmented flight, on a seat map and check the baggage in. As a result, an agent issues and prints a boarding pass.

9. Boarding pass issue

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Boarding pass sample. Source: Lastbreach

A typical boarding pass has a PNR, flight information like destination, date, time, gate, and a seat number, and a QR code. DCS generates it for each boarding pass. As the passenger proceeds to the airplane, a QR code is scanned and PNR status changes from “checked-in” to “boarded” and, finally, “flown.”

Baggage handling and reclaim

10. Baggage tracking

SITA’s WorldTracer Tablet service

As soon as the baggage handling system scans it, the code appears in IATA’s worldwide baggage tracking system WorldTracer. This system offers a number of modules for tracking and matching baggage, and every airline-member of WorldTracer Distribution Network (WTDN) gets access to them.

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Baggage tracing field at Ukraine International Airlines. Source: FlyUIA

A passenger can enter the code and name on the airline’s website in the appropriate field to learn their baggage status.

A few more words on flight booking

Originally published at AltexSoft tech blog “Flight Booking Process: Structure, Steps, and Key Systems

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Being a Technology & Solution Consulting company, AltexSoft co-builds technology products to help companies accelerate growth.

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