News Column

Rough Takeoff for Google's Flight Site

Oct. 3, 2011
google

Google debuted a new airfare search site last month, using technology it acquired from ITA Software, to compete against established meta-search sites such as Kayak and Bing.

Like those websites, the new Google Flight Search (google.com/flights) doesn't sell tickets but scans airline websites for the best fares, then links customers to those sites for booking.

Google says it plans improvements soon. Let's hope so because, for now at least, the site is clunky and confusing, almost as if someone jumped the gun. It shows only fares for domestic round-trips -- no one-ways and no international flights. It lists flights, but no prices or links for Southwest Airlines or Virgin America, and there is no quick way to find your actual itinerary once it links you to Alaska Airlines' site. Also, there are no links to online travel agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz.

Kayak and other online travel sites objected to Google's purchase of ITA (many of them use ITA's software to power their own searches), saying Google could use its clout to skew search results in its favor. So far, that doesn't seem to be happening. I plugged "airfare" into a Google search, and Kayak was the first site to come up, followed by Priceline, JetBlue and Orbitz. A scan for "flight searches" brought up Kayak, Expedia and Travelocity in that order.

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What most bugs travelers when it comes to airport security?

Rules limiting liquids in carry-on bags ranked first among business travelers, according to a survey of travel agents catering to corporate clients. Shoe removal was second.

Leisure travelers cited physical pat-downs as the No. 1 beef, followed by limits on liquids, reports Minnesota-based Travel Leaders, formerly the Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates travel agency.

The good news is that we might not have to go shoeless through security much longer. But the rules limiting carry-on liquids to 3.4 ounces appear here to stay.

Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano says the government is testing technologies for screening shoes, but is not as far along when it comes to liquids.

"The technology isn't quite there yet and it won't be for a while," The Associated Press quoted her as saying recently. "One of the last things you will probably see is a reduction or removing the limitation on liquids."

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I wish I could print all the e-mails I get from readers citing absurd shakedowns in the name of security.

Seventy-six-year-old Laila Adams, of Seattle, writes that because of a knee replacement, she's repeatedly "patted down and wanded with a device so sensitive that the metal hooks on my bra set it off. How did the screener know that? She checked with her hands!"

On tap are a few changes that might result in fewer physical searches in the future, but it will be a while before either comes to Sea-Tac Airport.

The Transportation Security Administration is retrofitting full-body scanners with software that turns nude images into bland stick figures. The goal is to encourage more travelers to use the scanners, and minimize physical pat-downs. Also coming is a new "trusted traveler" program designed to speed up security for those who agree to background checks and other types of advance screening.

Testing on the type of scanners in use at Sea-Tac (backscatter machines that use X-rays to produce body images) will begin in a lab this fall, but it could be a year before the retrofits are ready, says Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez.

No word yet on when TSA might extend its trusted traveler pilot program beyond airports in Dallas, Atlanta, Miami and Detroit.

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As of Jan. 24, the federal government will require airlines to include all taxes and fees in advertised fares. I was reminded why when I searched for an American Airlines flight from Miami to Cancun.

The "Economy Super Saver" price came up at $43 on the airline's website.

"Can't be right," I said to myself.

But there it was ... that is, until I clicked through to book and saw "additional taxes and fees" of $44.77 for a total of $87.77, double the advertised price.



Source: Copyright The Seattle Times 2011


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