Orbitz Finds a Madding Crowd

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.

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