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A record locator is an alphanumeric code, typically 6 characters in length, used in airline reservation systems to access a specific record. When a passenger, travel agent or airline employee refers to a record locator they typically mean a pointer to a specific reservation which is known as a Passenger Name Record or PNR. However, a record locator can point at records containing other forms of data. Record locators are unique within a given system at a specific point in time. Because the number of character combinations in 6 characters is finite (albeit very large) record locators get reused once the data to which it refers has been purged from the system. Because 1, I and L can be confused (also 0 and o) these characters are not always used in record locators. The pool of available character combinations is further reduced because the locator is actually a location address and there are rules about what character combinations can be used for such addresses.
Because the term record locator is usually used to refer to a PNR the two terms can become confused.
When a reservation is made a PNR is created in the system used by the person making the booking. This PNR will have a record locator. If the booking has been made through the airline and the only flight(s) are operated by the airline making the reservation only one PNR will exist. However if the booking contains flights of more than one airline (for example a passenger flies London/New York on British Airways and returns on United Airlines) then the reservation for both flights will (typically) be made through the first airline. The first airline will send messages to the 2nd confirming the reservation and the 2nd airline will create a separate PNR which has its own record locator. If the booking is made through a travel agency then a PNR (and record locator) will exist in the system used by the agency and further PNRs (each with their own record locator) will exist in each airline system.
In recent years more and more airlines have stopped running their own reservation systems and have become clients of systems such as Amadeus and Sabre who provide hosting services. Where this occurs a single PNR (with just one record locator) may be created in the hosting system containing details of all the flights for which that hosting system is responsible. For example, a reservation for passenger traveling from London to Paris on Air France returning BA booked through AF will reside in one PNR in the Amadeus system with just one record locator because both airlines use Amadeus for reservations. If that booking is made through a travel agent using Amadeus the same single PNR/record locator will exist. However if the reservation is made via an agency using a different system (e.g. Sabre) there will be two PNRs (one in Sabre and one in Amadeus) each with its own locator.
Airline systems pass record locators between themselves as part of the confirmation process. Should a record locator fail to be passed between two systems the PNR can still be retrieved using flight number/date and name.
Not all airlines use the term record locator. Other terms in use include:
- Confirmation number
- Reservation number
- Confirmation code
- Booking reference
- Booking code
Example record locators are RMT33W, KZVGX5, IIRCYC.
In the past, the Reservec 2 system had eight character record locators in the form xxnnnnxx where x was a letter and n a number. Some CPARS (Compact Programmed Airlines Reservations System) systems used five character locators.