Orbitz Finds a Madding Crowd

by Beth Cox

The new air travel site gets caught up in one of those classic good-news, bad-news scenarios that seem to dog popular start-up Internet companies.

After three months in beta, new travel site Orbitz went live this week, only to run head-on into one of those classic Internet good-news, bad-news scenarios: traffic was huge, exceeding expectations, but the servers and call centers were overwhelmed by the crowd.

The new site, backed by a consortium of airlines, said that the number of bookings surpassed its most optimistic projections.

However, an accidental severing of a fiber-optic cable slowed response times for three hours after the Monday launch, especially for those booking international itineraries, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The two call centers in Florida were grossly understaffed, and when Orbitz took the site down early Wednesday for a technical upgrade, it failed to put up a notice for customers.

Orbitz said today it has taken immediate steps to expand its customer service capacity, including the hiring of additional customer service agents as soon as next week. The company said that the deluge of business included many customers new to Internet booking, resulting in higher-than-expected call volumes.

"We sincerely regret that some of our new customers have been impacted when they called with questions and we are taking quick action to ensure a level of service that Orbitz customers deserve," said Roland Jacobs, chief marketing officer at Orbitz.

The number of Orbitz call center representatives will be doubled to more than 200 over the next three weeks in order to meet customer demand, Jacobs said. The company said that gross bookings totaled more than $1 million on launch day Monday and exceeded $3.3 million on Tuesday. Orbitz is selling more than 10,000 airline tickets a day, compared to 200 to 400 a day during its beta test preview.

Orbitz publicized its launch via a multi-million dollar ad campaign out of TBWA/Chiat/Day's New York office.

Orbitz is backed by a consortium that includes American, United, Northwest, Delta and Continental. Analysts have said it represents "an increased competitive threat" to existing travel operations Expedia and Travelocity . The operation also is in court, being sued by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines for alleged false advertising and unfair competition.

  This article was originally published on Thursday Jun 7th 2001
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