What is a PNR (Passenger Name Record)?

What is a PNR (Passenger Name Record)?

2020, Apr 20    

Global tourism has seen a drastic hike in its numbers ever since the days of the second world war. From a measly 25 million international visits in 1950 to an all-time high of 1.4 billion international travelers in 2018, one can estimate how the tourism industry has grown over the years.

With such an increase in globalisation and trade across countries, traveling overseas is now seen as an integral part of life. This spike in demand for traveling came along with much development and even a need for luxury advancement. A journey that once took several months by cruise ships now takes only a few hours. Thanks to the fast advancement and growth in the aviation industry and the introduction of air travel for which all this is now possible.

From a distance, it may seem that the aviation industry by itself runs very smoothly, as smoothly as the planes itself. However, upon closer observation, you will see that many small and large operations are involved to facilitate the activities taking place in this industry.

Most of these work round the clock to make things happen but are not noticeable as they are operating behind the scenes. Some are extremely important yet unknown to the public. One such example is PNR.

What is a PNR?

PNR is the abbreviation of Passenger Name Record. As you can guess by the name itself, PNR is an identification tag used by airline companies to recognise the passenger and information regarding the flight booking from data stored within their system known as the Computer Reservation System Computer Reservation System (CRS). This information is retrieved from the airline company’s own database system rather than from a third party such as a travel agent or GDS.

A PNR also goes by the name booking reference or record locator. PNR stores information regarding every passenger’s itinerary that involves the schedule of events based on the travel route, names of the destinations that are to be visited, the time and duration of travel, modes of transportation, and other related information.  

The System of Multiple PNRs

Not everyone takes a direct flight towards a particular destination every time. On many occasions, there are transits and one itinerary is comprised of various locations. To solve this little issue, a PNR represents the individual parts that make up an itinerary and there can be several PNRs for one itinerary.

In the case of a travel itinerary that involves multiple locations and airlines, a super PNR is used. This stores data of all the stops, locations, and airlines contributing towards one single travel cycle, often referred to as a master itinerary. In many cases, even a single flight can consist of several individual PNRs.

With the possibility of booking a single PNR in more than one reservation system, such as using Computer Reservation Systems (CRS) and Global Distribution Systems (GDS), different segments of the same PNR are created. It is also the case when one system is used for booking and another is used for storing.

Add interline to this procedure and things become a little more complicated. Interline is when there exists code sharing using different operating carriers, such as booking in one airline but flying on another as this also brings about the use of several different PNRs. This practice of using multiple PNRs is what mandates the usage of super PNRs or master itinerary, as mentioned above. So that all travel data can be accessed easily and stored under one elaborate PNR.

Usage of a PNR code

You might be wondering by now that what is the purpose and use of knowing your PNR. A Passenger Name Record is very useful when it comes to traveling as it helps you amalgamate all travel-related information into one place and store them in a cohesive manner. Furthermore, it allows ease of access as you can attain all necessary information by using just this one code.

After booking a flight, the unique number that is made up of numerals and digits is your PNR code, you must keep this safely recorded as it will support you throughout your itinerary and assist you in resolving any problems faced during your journey. Typically a PNR consists of six alphanumeric characters.

Starting with its several usages, the booking reference number or PNR can be used to check-in via online avoiding unnecessary procedures. This particular attribute of PNRs helps you save plenty of time.

Other than that, you can also use the record locator number to manage your flights and bookings in a seamless manner. If you ever land in a situation where you do not have an e-ticket with you and unfortunately lost your printed flight tickets as well, the PNR number will be your savior as by using this you can easily reprint your ticket.

Moreover, you can also conduct additional flight-related activities such as purchasing additional baggage allowance, altering previously provided information, and buying any additional services. All these activities can be done without any hassle only if you have your PNR code with you. It helps you manage your bookings effectively and efficiently in a short time.

Attaining your PNR Code

So where is it that you can find this highly useful code? Attaining a PNR code is as simple as using it as a referral. After purchasing your flight ticket using the internet, you will receive an email or SMS from the agency or the airline company. This email or message contains information regarding your personal details and flight details.

Scan through the message thoroughly and you will find the PNR code in the midsection of the digital document or check the right bottom corner if you are viewing your boarding pass in your smartphone or tablet. It is often under the heading of “booking details”. It is of paramount importance for passengers to provide communication details while booking flight tickets accurately and always double-checking them.

PNR and Privacy

PNR codes are widely used all over today. However, is this system of storing personal data and information actually safe? This issue has come under the spotlight after the realisation that while booking air tickets require a minimum and basic information, a PNR code asks for much more information comparatively, that too of a sensitive nature.

This includes basic data such as passenger’s full name, date of birth, home and work addresses, telephone number, e-mail address, and more sensitive information such as credit card details, IP address for online booking, names and personal information of emergency contacts. Additional information that a PNR automatically records is personalised information such as food preferences and health requirements in the case of booking a wheelchair along with flight tickets.

Once a ticket is booked and a PNR is attained, the data remains in the storage of CRS and GDS companies forever, making them a data warehouse for PNR information. All this information can be accessed easily just by typing in the PNR code. Despite all this, PNR data is still treated as ordinary commercial transaction data and thus maintaining basic privacy standards.

The Future of PNRs

While it is true that PNR has been catering and assisting the smooth execution of operational activities in the aviation industry for several years, there are hints that this practice may be nearing its end. With more advancement in technology and breakthrough innovations in the database management system, better and modern things are coming up and diminishing the adherence to existing systems.

A new system known as the One Order is an upcoming technological advancement that can significantly alter things in the aviation industry. This follows the system of a Single Customer Order Record and contains all the essential data and elements that are required to fulfil one itinerary or travel cycle.

Additionally, it makes the optimised usage of three current systems being the Passenger Name Record (PNR), Electronic Miscellaneous Document (EMD), and Electronic Ticket (ETKT). This means that these three systems may soon become obsolete as the new One Order system will be providing all the benefits and facilities of the three under a single platform. This new data communication standard supports the vision of a more improved and simplified airline sales and transactions.


It is evident that the Passenger Name Records (PNR) have been an essential part of the airline industry for a long time now. It has also facilitated transactions and other activities providing opportunities for smooth flow of operations.

However, this scenario is now changing dynamically. With better technology being introduced and new innovations made, the manner in which information is managed and handled is in a constant process of alteration.