Nearly everyone I know who books a room at a new hotel does so only after scouring the depths of the Internet to find reviews about the hotel, but what about their flight? Potential passengers may spend thousands of dollars on a ticket to a destination, but many don’t think about searching for airline reviews.
But no two airlines are exactly the same.
New York City-based startup Routehappy is looking to change how potential passengers pick their carrier. Based on user generated reviews (the company has already collected 100,000 contributions from over 60 countries), users can search for the highest rated airline and airport combination for their route in order to ensure the optimal passenger experience.
Routehappy says it wants to help travellers find the best flight, each and every time. Its objective is spelled out simply on its homepage: “You can have a better air travel experience. Find the best seats, entertainment, crew, food, on-time performance & more.” But these are just some of the many categories. Users can review very specific ‘passenger experience’ elements of their flight, right down to seat recline and cabin ambiance.
When a potential passenger searches a flight route, Routehappy displays a list of airlines, with the highest ranked airline at the top. Immediately viewable is the on-time performance for each airline, whether the carrier offers Wi-Fi, plus rankings for comfort, crew, food, entertainment, and power plugs. These are the categories that Routehappy has identified as being the most important to passengers.
“The absolute highest factor that flyers care about are the seats. The legroom in economy, lie-flat in business,” says Robert Albert, the CEO of Routehappy. Beyond seats, the friendliness of the crew is another major factor. “If enough people share their opinions, we see how the staff treats people,” he says.
Albert says Routehappy is “disrupting the convention of air travel by differentiating it”. He believes that passengers aren’t looking beyond the dollar sign when booking flights, but that they should. “Air travel is too much about price and schedule. Those things are important, but they missing the element of experience.”
Albert recalls the passenger experience that led him to create Routehappy. While booking a trip from Singapore to Bangkok, he asked several people what would be the best airline between the two major cities. However, the answer he often received was “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”. Albert realised that, to understand which airline is the best on any particular route, he would need to personally fly each airline, and draw his own conclusions.
With the creation of review sites like Routehappy, as well as sites like Seatguru – which lets you find the seatmap for your flight (a refresh of Seatguru will be released this fall) – it is becoming easier to figure out what products and services each airline offers.
“Air travel is now more transparent,” says Albert. “And airlines need to understand what is and isn’t working.”
Routehappy is even collecting data as specific as whether the in-flight entertainment is personal, personal with live TV, or the old overhead style. “Entertainment is very big. People want in-seat entertainment, but there are still lots of flights with overhead [monitors]. People are also bringing their own devices, but they need plugs. People are passionate about these things,” says Albert.
Many airlines aren’t clear about what features and entertainment are on offer. “American Airlines only tells you about Wi-Fi [availability] 24 hours in advance of the flight,” says Albert. That information is far more useful at the point of booking.
The accuracy of this data is important, and Routehappy is able to determine which scheduled flights will, or will not have Wi-Fi. “We actually pull this data directly from the airlines and in-flight Wi-Fi providers like Gogo and Row44 and match it with flight schedules. Users play a role in rating and reviewing the Wi-Fi service, but member reviews aren’t the primary resource to our Wi-Fi data overall,” says a Routehappy spokeswoman.
Routehappy is attempting to reach two different types of travellers with its data. The first so-called “experience optimisers” are described by Albert as “frequent flyers who struggle to find info about the flight. They are willing to spend for ancillary services.” The second are “A to B flyers”, described as travellers who think that flying is all about the price, but “struggle with the bad experiences”, says Albert.
“These passengers don’t even know it’s possible to have a better experience. We are building Routehappy to give the A to B flyer a better experience.”