A passenger name record, sometimes referred to as a PNR, is a complex, computerized database in which a traveler’s information is stored in a globally accessible network. Primarily, it is used throughout the airline industry, but professionals in other areas of the travel industry rely on it as well. In the U.S., federal law requires that airlines share the data collected through the passenger name record with other airlines and with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Whenever reservations are made on a major airline, passengers are required to input certain information about themselves and their travel plans. This is true whether individuals are making the reservations themselves or through a travel agency. The information generally includes a person’s name, address, e-mail, and itinerary. It can also include other, more sensitive information, such as credit card details, special service requests, and other personal data. These details are stored in a massive database, formerly known as the Computer Reservation System (CRS) but now more commonly referred to as the Global Distribution System (GDS).
Commercial airlines generally have access to the GDS through one of various major companies that run database information systems. The passenger’s information is shared with other airlines and sometimes distributed to other travel industry professionals. Originally, this database was developed to make the process of changing planes and tracking luggage easier for both travelers and the airlines. After the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on 11 September 2001, the government began requiring airlines to provide information collected through the passenger name record to the DHS. The DHS uses the collected data to keep track of passengers flying into and out of the U.S. and develops no-fly lists from the information, identifying individuals who might pose security threats.
Other industries, such as hotel chains, commercial railways, and car rental companies, might also use the passenger name record system to keep track of travelers. Due to the sensitive nature of the information contained on a passenger name record and the fact that so many commercial carriers and other companies have access to that data, many people worry that their personal information could be compromised and fall into the wrong hands. Officials maintain, however, that the most extreme security measures are employed to protect the passenger name record databases and that only authorized companies can gain access. Regardless, unless a person enters the appropriate information into the passenger name record, in most instances, he or she will be precluded from traveling via commercial airline, railway, or rental car.