Since Google’s purchase of ITA Software a few months ago for $700 million, there’s been interest in what the new flight path will be for leveraging any semantic technology included in the acquired vendor’s Matrix air fare search engine. Last week, Google posted on its Google Search blog that it’s been working on delivering “new travel tools that provide faster, more flexible, and more useful results to online travel searches.”
Its new Flight Search feature, available here, isn’t completely a wrap yet. But even in its initial stage it’s taking a few steps to making good on some of the semantically-tuned expectations set by Google senior VP Jeff Huber. When the acquisition was announced he talked about the cool factor around just typing in that you want to go somewhere sunny for such-and-such a cost at such-and-such a time and get back times, fares, and links to sites to buy the tickets. While it’s not set up to enable natural language searches per se, you can type into or select from menus your departure airport, set the price you’d like to pay for a ticket, and even your maximum flying time to get a visual take on the map of destinations (U.S.-only for now and a select group of cities) that fit the bill.
Select one and from there you can further narrow down choices, such as the time window for departures or arrivals or specific airlines or members of specific airline networks, such as the Star Alliance.
You also can figure out when it might be most economical to travel. With the calendar function, you can see the lowest fare for the date you’ve indicated you’re leaving, and watch that change as you extend the number of days of your stay, for instance. Or use the bar chart to sight the lowest fare for trips of a certain length to a certain destination.
Google explains in its blog post on the topic that flights are chosen primarily based on cost and total travel time, and that its filters are automatically set to “focus on options which are reasonable in both price and duration,” though these are adjustable to show more flights. Bookings are done via links to the airline web sites, and Google notes that it is “working to create additional opportunities for our other partners in the travel industry to participate as well.”
Reaction to the news has involved protests that Google is going back on the promises it made to anti-trust regulators about its use of ITA technology. An Expedia lawyer, for example, is scheduled to testify during a Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee hearing on Google’s business practices on the Internet that’s taking place today, with complaints that the new service is using an updated version of ITA software that isn’t available to others, and that it is not including links to online travel agencies to support comparison shopping.
Google has gone ahead and posted this Facts About Google And Competition page as its guide to the Senate Judiciary hearing. Among its responses is this one that's relevant to the Flight Search issues: