In 2001 a scant 5 days after the birth of my oldest son I started work at Worldspan. A subsidiary company of TWA, Northwest Airlines and Delta it was one of the power players in the travel industry. The main headquarters was in Atlanta, but Kansas City was a close second.
Situated off Tiffany Springs Pkwy near the airport in the Northland it consisted of 4 buildings staggered in order of size around a central hub. The largest at 8 stories was the farthest East then in counter-clockwise fashion was followed by a 6, a 4 and finally a 2 story building. Along with a similar series to the West (only the 2, 4 and 6 story buildings though) they formed an incomplete circle as seen from overhead. At the foot of the Worldspan builds was a cafeteria/multipurpose room with the parking lot radiating outward.
The travel industry and by extension travel agents were thriving at this time and I was very pleased to have landed a job with such a stable company. I worked on the help desk situated on the top floor of the tallest building. Our job was to support agents using the 1P Worldspan booking system as well as airline personnel. Before I could take my first call I joined what I later found out was the last new hire class they ever formed. Myself and 5 other hopefuls spent 3 months learning all the ins and outs of the travel industry and memorizing archaic DOS like text commands.
The program was originally developed in the 60s and 70s and was so ingrained in the culture that while GUIs (Graphic User Interface) had been developed it was difficult to bring it all the ins and outs of the process into the new millennium. You could accomplish quite a bit from a command prompt if you knew how to string together the commands but one small error and you would either get nothing or worse the wrong ticket/price all together.
An example command could look something like this: EZE$*#$CK*IET0151234564323X*A/O$CCAX/OIMCI22JAN212612345 /ODT01234321234561/AB100.00X10.00P50.00T160.00#KEX*$5.00#N1.1
As you can imagine knowing all the idiosyncrasies of this program and the varying commands related to fares, seats, discount, dietary restrictions, ticket exchanges, layovers, rewards programs, agreements between airlines, etc. could be daunting when it all boils down to esoteric codes that needed to be entered in a precise order. This resulted in a booming demand for our support and we manned the phones 24/7, after all people traveled in all hours of the night and, at least at first, we fielded calls from all around the world.
The Worldspan help desk is what I would call my first “real” job. Prior to that I had worked at McDonald’s, Baskin Robbins and in other entry level service roles. I was proud to be there and excited to be making better money for my growing family. We earned travel benefits and discounts on things like cruises and airfare but I never had the extra funds or time to take advantage of them.
Just a year after I started with the company the 9/11 attacks occurred and this was the beginning of the end of the mega travel industry as we knew it. Prior to that visiting a Travel Agent meant detailed white glove service from travel experts without any additional fees. Agencies made their money by charging the airlines, hotels and what not for their services since they were bringing them more customers. With the reduced travel that happened in the early 2000s however they pushed back by rejecting these fees and Travel Agencies had to then charge the traveler. In return most folks began to book on things like Expedia and Priceline and the travel agents were seen by many as an unnecessary luxury.
Being the last new hire for the department meant it was difficult to pickup overtime and I got last pick for the shifts. That was until a few years in when we had a change in management that decided that your call statistics and quality scores would dictate your order at least for the top 50% of the staff and the remainder would still follow seniority. This was perfect for me because I was consistently one of the top 3 and was always able to get the shift that worked best for me or work a holiday if I needed extra pay.
When TWA went out of business and American Airlines bought them out they began to outsource portions of our work. Those of us with good scores were asked/offered/told that they needed help training the employees at the new help desk sites in Europe. That lead to a great many adventures and eventually meeting the love of my life. Slowly the company began to conduct layoffs reducing staff and consolidating until they only needed the 3 larger builds, then the 2 largest then just the 8 story building. From there they held for a while then slowly reduced staff again renting out the top few floors and moving us down until they just had the bottom two floors. When I returned from Romania for the last time they had the remainder of my team, roughly 20 people, crammed into a room designed for half of that. We were packed into a small conference room turned cube farm with just enough space for our tower, monitor and keyboard and about a shoulders width of working space (frankly a fire marshals nightmare).
Eventually my number came up and I left the company when there was less than 50 KC employees remaining of the more than 2,000 that were there when I started. As luck would have it I was able to line up not one but two new jobs and soon transitioned into part time work for KCTV5 and my full time gig at ScriptPro. Worldspan and its former competitor Galileo were eventually absorbed into Travelport GDS as of August 21st 2007.