“ON TIME”. It’s the first thing we look for when we arrive at the airport — oftentimes we’ll even check a flight’s status before leaving home to make sure things are proceeding as planned. But as anyone who has done extensive traveling could tell you, that ‘On Time’ indicator isn’t exactly honest. Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, sometimes airlines will continue to proclaim that a flight is “On Time” when, minutes before takeoff, your plane is nowhere to be seen. Flightcaster, a new Y Combinator funded company that’s launching today, is looking to provide a much more honest indicator of your flight’s current status, and is capable of alerting you to a delay as long as six hours before the airline will.
So how is that possible? Given how poor the ‘On Time’ indicator can be, it should come as little surprise that the airlines often know your flight will be delayed long before they tell you. In fact, they have an incentive to keep you waiting as long as possible, otherwise they’ll have to manage the logistics of rebooking more people on other flights. Flightcaster taps into a variety of data sources to try to uncover the truth.
The service keeps track of FAA alerts, weather, network congestion, historical trends, and other factors, which are all run through an algorithm to provide an estimate of how likely it is that a given flight will be delayed. When it makes its guess, it provides you with a percentage chance, along with the reasons it thinks the flight will be delayed (for example, it might say that there is a 90% chance of a 2 hour delay because your plane is still sitting 200 miles away at another airport). With that knowledge, you can attempt to book another flight hours before everyone else does (Domestic only for now — international support is planned for a future release).
This could be a godsend for businesses travelers, but I wonder what casual travelers will do when they hear a flight is possibly delayed. Say, for example, you saw that your flight had an 80% chance of being delayed by two hours because of poor weather. What then? It would be foolish to plan on arriving at the airport two hours late — the odds may be in your favor, but if you get unlucky, you could stand to lose quite a bit (especially if your ticket is non-refundable). That said, if you’re the sort of person comfortable with rebooking flights, as most business travelers are, then the app could be very, very useful.
Flightcaster allows you to check flights statuses on its website, and also offers applications for the iPhone and BlackBerry which normally run $10 each (in honor of the site’s launch both apps are currently only $5 apiece). Beyond the smartphone apps, Flightcaster also plans to generate revenue by offering corporate customers a dashboard from which they can monitor the flight status of multiple employees, which would allow companies to coordinate around delays.
Image via WaveBreaker.