Google Flight Search in Detail
In April of 2011, Google bought ITA Software and combined it with their existing company. The founder of ITA Software became the Vice President of Travel at Google headquarters. The main result of the acquisition that we can see today is Google’s recently released Flight Search feature. In September, the release of this exciting and much anticipated product was met with the expected approval and criticism but also with concerns from competing flight search companies.
Google’s aim in acquiring ITA Software was to provide “faster, more flexible, and more useful results” when travelers search for flight information, according to their September press release regarding the product. As with many Google products and innovations, the Flight Search feature was released in a simple, straightforward form with the promise of more development.
To begin with, the Flight Search function offered speedy results, handy search filters and date specific price calendars to help travelers pick their flight. The function also lets users explore alternate travel plans to the ones they had in mind. For instance, if you plan to fly to Seattle, Washington, Google’s Flight Search will let you know if it would be significantly cheaper to fly to nearby Portland or Olympia instead.
The specific focus of the Flight Search algorithm is price and duration of the flights sought and available online. These two factors are influential in helping a prospective traveler choose what flight is best for them so it is no surprise that Google knew to focus on these areas.
The limitations of the initially released Flight Search from Google was that it only included flights within the United States at economy rates. Again similar to their previous product release practices, Google plans to develop this feature more and more to gradually build it up to be the most powerful of its kind.
One contention that has arisen about this latest product from Google is that it only seeks information from airline websites and not from other online flight comparing services such as Expedia, Orbitz, Cheap Tickets and Kayak. Unfortunately, this added bonus was excluded by Google because the airline companies themselves were dead set against the addition of this third party sites. While this makes legal sense, previous supporters of Google’s Flight Search feature have come to wonder if their dominance over the market means they should be required to provide all search results and not just those from airline sites.
If Google sides with the airlines and shows only their prices, all non-airline websites that sell flight tickets will suffer. Why the difference in price between the airline website and the third party site? The travel agents who run those third party websites have gotten discounted tickets through deals with the airlines. If Google were to combine all the prices as originally intended, there would no longer be a reason for airlines to give these deals to third party sites.
This choice to provide only a selection of search results is making some critics reconsider the Google Corporation’s entire credibility as a search engine. If they exclude websites from this feature, who is to say they don’t do the same for their main search engine and other services?
For travel agent websites such as Expedia, Flight Centre and Orbitz, Google Flight Search stands as a threat to their business. According to the Wall Street Journal, travel agent websites like these can receive up to 20% of their online visitors directly from Google searches. Now that Google displays their own airline-only flight search results, travel agent websites stand to lose at least that 20%. If Google included travel agent website fares in their search results, these sites could rest at ease but, for now, the airlines refuse to cooperate with Google if they do this.