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British Airways claims record levels of customers are booking flights through its web site in a testament to the company's IT turnaround and response to low-price carriers.

One passenger hit BA.com every second on Monday with a quarter of a million booking online last week, according to BA's chief information officer Paul Coby. BA's CIO said four out of five direct bookings are now through BA.com.

Increased traffic comes as BA's latest sale of fares closes, and the surge points to improved functionality and greater integration between BA.com and the BA business, according to Coby. Improved functionality and integration means that appealing, low-priced fares and specials can be made quickly and easily posted, helping BA battle low-priced European carriers.

The changes at BA.com accompanied an overhaul of BA's IT operations to help compete against carriers who also had lower overheads. BA has now cut 40 per cent off the costs of running IT compared to the 1990s, when there was little control over what IT was purchased - a fact that helped push up administration costs.

"BA in the mid 1990s had lost the plot in many ways. IT was shit scared of being outsourced... we had many views of the customer, and people had lost faith in technology," Corby said. He called BA.com "vital" in helping BA "stay in the game."

The company's next big IT challenge is moving its entire Heathrow Airport operation to the airport's newest terminal, Terminal 5, from 2008 onwards. BA is consolidating to deliver improved customer service using "new and innovative technology". Coby has created an IT and business change unit to help manage the convergence in business processes that the merger will require, noting BA still uses procedures and operations at Heathrow dating from the old BOAC days.

"T5 could go wrong in [not] ensuring there's proper business process change in the new terminal. That's why the new unit is thinking about that," Coby said.

One piece of new technology that will be missing from Terminal 5 on opening day, though, will be the ability to track passengers' luggage using RFID. According to Coby, the design for the baggage system closed three years ago and "the concept of retro fitting RFID systems is asking for it not to work on day one." He added RFID tracking required buy-in from the entire industry, not just selected airports or carriers.®

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