An airline executive has come up with an idea that could make printed air timetables a thing of the past. Instead, travelers will get all the information they need at the touch of a button.
After years of working in the travel trade (with the French airline UTA) Maurice Minzly has founded a company in London with a license to transmit travel information on the Post Office's Prestel viewdata system. Due to start operation this year, Prestel uses a modified television set, a telephone line and a simple keypad to give users instant access to a huge store of information in a central computer.
Minzly is already supplying advice on how to get there fast to the 1,000 or so participants in a trial system that has been operating for six months in London and two provincial centers.
In London's Portman Hotel, one of the first public places to be equipped with an adapted TV set, I used the keypad, which looks like a pocket calculator, to call the Prestel computer. Up on the colored screen came a directory of organizations, including Minzly's, with notes on the information they could furnish and the numbers by which to key them.
I keyed the number for Minzly's firm, got a further list -- this time of airlines and countries -- and keyed another number to get the country of my choice.
My selected destination (I had chosen Tahiti to escape from the London winter) then appeared on the screen. With it was not only a timetable showing the quickest connections but, on succeeding "frames," all I needed to know about the weather there in December, the currency exchange rate, forthcoming public holidays, the cost of car hire, and the closing time of the shops.
When Prestel comes into full commercial operation, sometime in the spring, it will cost a halfpenny a time (about one U.S. cent) to see any one page of information, plus two pence per minute for the time the computer is engaged.These are the Post Office charges. On top of these, suppliers of information will be able to impose an additional charge, which the Post Office collects on the telephone meter and passes on.
Minzly, who is also a consultant on viewdata to other firms, reckons that for travel information he will need to charge about 8p a frame, including the Post Office's 5p.
"The beauty of it," he says, "is that you can keep the information bang up to the minute. If schedules are changed, through a strike for instance, all you need do is to type the amendment into the computer by an on-line keyboard."
But seeing the timetable is only the beginning of the game. As Prestel gets under way it will be possible for twoway communication to take place, so that having zeroed in on the flight of his choice, the intending traveler will be able to ask the computer what seats are available, select where he wants to stit, and book his ticket by means of the keypad and a credit card number.
The first commercial users are likely to be mostly business houses because of the cost of the adapted TV sets. The current price is about $1,400, but as production gets under way, from 11 manufacturers, it is expected to fall to only about $200 above the cost of an ordinary color set. Rental companies are hoping to bring down the rental price to about $36 a month.