Need a Flight? Just Google It
by Christopher Elliott
When Brittany Laughlin needed to fly from Chicago to San Francisco last month, she tried something new.
Instead of visiting an online travel agency or an airline website, she headed over to Google Flight Search.
Within a few seconds, Google showed her the perfect flight on
Google Flight Search is the result of the search engine giant's acquisition of ITA Software, a Cambridge, Mass., company whose technology powers many well-known travel sites, including
None of that matters -- at least in the short term -- to travelers like Laughlin. She just needed a cheap fare fast, and Google delivered. "I would use it again," she says.
So, should you consider using Google Flight Search for your next airline ticket purchase? The answer: a qualified "yes."
The site is incredibly fast, thanks to
The service also offers a few interesting new features, including a screen displaying the least expensive days to fly and a variety of ways to search for flights, such as by price and destination. These aren't necessarily new to the online travel world, but Google does them in a very user-friendly way.
But Google Flight Search is as notable for its shortcomings. It offers no international flights, and several carriers, including Virgin America and JetBlue, are currently unbookable. You can't buy any multi-city or multi-airline itineraries, either. Perhaps the biggest omission is that you can't purchase tickets through an online travel agency such as
Because of that, many critics have written Flight Search off -- at least for now. "Google Flights is useless to me," says Roni Weiss, a travel blogger and social media consultant. "Once they're international and have the functionality of Kayak, I'll take notice. Until then, I don't care."
Why would Google roll out a half-baked product? Because that's part of its corporate DNA. Internally, the process is referred to as "launch and iterate" -- release a product and then improve it over time. One example is Gmail,
What's more, the air travelers who decry the site's lack of features are using it in a way it's not intended to be used, says Google. Flight Search is meant to be accessed in conjunction with its web search function. And flights will only show up in a search if they're available through the system, which eliminates the problem of users searching in vain for international flights, which aren't available yet. "When people search for information about travel, we want to provide the most complete results," says Google spokesman Sean Carlson. "That's our goal."
Since Google flipped the switch on Flight Search a few weeks ago, its engineers haven't made any major changes to the interface, and no big upgrades are planned for the next few months, say people familiar with the company's inner workings. But changes loom on the horizon.
"There's a lot we still don't know about what
All this may have a familiar ring. When several airlines started
But this may be different, according to Michael Goul, chair of the information systems department at
Which brings us to the long-term implications of Flight Search. It may seem like an insignificant "me-too" move by Google, but critics say that it could quickly morph into a dominant force for selling airline tickets.
That could drive competitors out of business -- and drive airline ticket prices higher, they say. "If there's no scrutiny of Google, then we could end up with a situation in five or 10 years where there are fewer travel providers," says Ben Hammer, a spokesman for FairSearch, a coalition of travel companies that compete with Google. FairSearch fears that its members may be cut out of
"Google would become a single focal point to reach airlines and will give them incredible leverage to drive up advertising costs," says Hammer.
For now, though, there's no immediate threat, and the present iteration of Flight Search is no match for more full-featured competitors such as Kayak and
But what about a year from now? Will Google kill off some of the other popular travel sites we rely on today? As one who sounded the alarm when
I hope I'll be right this time.
Article: Copyright ©, Tribune Media Services Inc.
Vacations & Travel "Need a Flight? Just Google It"