July 16, 2008

Omaha Firm Creates Revenue on Print-at-Home Boarding Passes

By Tom Shaw, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Jul. 16--Travelers who book plane tickets through airline Web sites often also print boarding passes at home.

Now many of those boarding passes will contain more than just flight information, courtesy of an Omaha company.

Sojern Inc. has partnered with American Airlines, Delta, Continental, Northwest, U.S. Airways and United to provide Web site links, telephone numbers and advertisements for attractions in travelers' destination cities. The service launched Tuesday for some fliers.

Sojern Inc. was founded last year by Gordon Whitten Jr. and Bill Fisher.

Whitten, 36, and Fisher, 62, have started and held leadership roles in a number of tech-related companies.

Fisher, for example, was chief executive officer for Applied Communications Inc. (ACI) in Omaha in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Whitten is CEO of Sojern, and Fisher is chief operating officer.

Whitten said he got the idea for Sojern while waiting at airports. He saw people with boarding passes and wondered whether the airlines would let him put travel information on them.

"I saw hundreds of people holding these things -- what I viewed as blank pieces of paper with a small piece of information that they needed," Whitten said. "They're holding it for, in some cases, hours."

After months of design and testing, the new boarding pass pages became available Tuesday for Delta customers flying to Las Vegas. The enhanced pages will be available to fliers traveling to other cities and on other airlines in coming months.

Whitten and Fisher eventually want travelers to be able to enter entertainment, meal and other preferences so they can get specific offers when booking flights.

Sojern is not concerned about a potential reduction in the number of flights because of fuel and other rising costs, Whitten said. About 40 percent of passengers "check in" at home now, and that number is expected to grow.

Al Lenza, vice president of distribution and e-commerce for Northwest Airlines, said airlines will get a share of the advertising revenue .

"I think this is going to be responsible for many millions of dollars for each airline," he said.

Sojern has more than 50 employees in its office near South 171st Street and West Center Road, said Whitten, who formerly was a vice president of software company Intuit, which makes TurboTax, Quicken and other home-office computer programs.

Fisher said even though two of the company's major financial backers are in California's Silicon Valley, he and Whitten wanted Sojern to be in Omaha.

"We were encouraged to look at other locations other than Omaha, in fact encouraged pretty hard," Fisher said. "There's no magic about the coast."

Sojern's Omaha staff could grow, they said, as the company gets off the ground and looks to partner with more airlines, both domestic and international.

--Contact the writer: 444-1149, [email protected]


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