After years of wooing potential IT customers in North America, Amadeus finally gained a foothold on the continent with its new contract with Southwest Airlines.

The contract calls for Southwest to use the Amadeus Altéa Customer Management System to handle its international flying beginning in 2014.

But in his first-quarter earnings call with analysts, Gary Kelly, the airline’s chief executive officer, said “it also sets the stage for us to move all of our reservations, the domestic reservations that is, to Amadeus if we choose to.

“If it works well for us, we’ll obviously take a very hard look at domestic,” Kelly said.

“I mean, why go to all this trouble to work with Amadeus with the thought that you're not going to continue to do business with them in a broader way?”

In an interview with Travel Technology Update, Scott Gutz, president and chief executive officer of Amadeus North America, said he believed Amadeus’ track record, as well as its commitment to moving to open systems, played a role in winning Southwest’s business.

Amadeus has migrated more than 115 airlines to at least one module of Altéa’s reservations, inventory control and departure control systems.

Southwest Airlines, now the largest domestic carrier in the U.S., has never flown internationally, but its acquisition of AirTran, which flies to Mexico and the Caribbean, brought it into the international arena.

Southwest’s current passenger services system is based on the old Braniff Cowboy system and modified over the years by Sabre.

Southwest passengers are processed in a separate mainframe complex within the Sabre data center.

Kelly has said that the current system is not capable of handling international flying.

AirTran currently uses Navitaire’s New Skies system.

As Southwest integrates AirTran’s flights, AirTran will migrate to the Altéa platform, Gutz said.

A more modern system also will open the door for Southwest to more easily participate in activities such as interlining and code-sharing.

“It will be able to move into new markets in a simple and efficient manner,” he said.

For a period of time, the three systems – Altéa, Sabre and New Skies – will be required to communicate with each other.

Gutz said that does not pose any unusual problems. Airlines use solutions and tools from multiple vendors, he said.

“From Amadeus’ point of view, we are used to integrating Altéa with other solutions,” he said. “Our systems are interacting with many other systems and solutions, including Sabre.”

Gutz acknowledged that Amadeus is “thrilled ” to have landed the Southwest business.

The company suffered a disappointment in 2009 when United confirmed that it would not migrate to the Altéa platform, despite signing a contract to do so in 2005.

Instead, it decided to move to the SHARES system used by Continental, its merger partner.

That was followed by American Airlines’ announcement that it would work with HP Enterprise to develop Jetstream, its new PSS. Amadeus had made the shortlist in that contest.

Despite the letdowns, Amadeus persevered in pursuing the North American market. Gutz said Amadeus has spent “the better part of the last two years making investments in IT and in personnel in North America.”

The Southwest agreement makes no mention of participation in Amadeus’ GDS.

The carrier participates at a basic level in Sabre, and it uses the Travelport Universal API to provide fares and inventory to Travelport subscribers.

Gutz said that as Amadeus’ relationship with Southwest develops, “we would hope that participation in the GDS would follow.”

Travel Technology Update