Next Time, Avoid The Snow Disruption

By | March 14, 2017

[UPDATE, April 19, 2017: Rebooking service Freebird announced reseller deals with Altour, Options Travel, Safe Harbors Business Travel, Short’s Travel Management, Travel and Transport and Upside Travel. It also picked up additional funding from venture capital firms General Catalyst and Accomplice, and named industry vet Ellen Keszler as another advisor and investor.]

Did today’s blizzard in the Northeast wreck your travel plans? There are a number of developing services that can help corporate travelers avoid such problems.

A first step may be knowing the likelihood that a flight could be disrupted before booking it. Flightsayer, a service from Resilient Ops, presents a score for each flight where 1 represents the smallest chance of a disruption and 10 represent the highest. Scores are based on predictive analytics made possible by algorithms and machine learning using a variety of public and proprietary data sources.

There’s a consumer-facing website. Mobile apps are coming. Flightsayer now aims to penetrate corporate travel.

“It’s really about taking our API and plugging it into third-party technology that TMCs bring to their customers,” said travel business vet Michael Jacques, who in January became the company’s chief commercial officer. He said there has been some interest from a couple large TMCs. In addition to giving clients better information, maybe they’d use the predictive capabilities to know when to staff up.

Jacques also said a few corporate customers are using the service. “Some travel managers will only want to book flights that show up as Flightsayer 1 or 2,” Jacques said. “That could help optimize corporate contracts by taking out the ones that make less sense.”

Jacques said one GDS is testing Flightsayer’s API. He also indicated possible use by airlines themselves, which could make their operations more efficient.

The service for now is focused on the United States and Canada. Jacques said expansion to Europe would occur in the next three to six months, followed by the rest of the world.

Once you booked and are prepping for the trip, maybe bad weather strikes. Or an airline IT or mechanical issue sidelines your plane. Or some other unforeseen event occurs. Now what?


Image: Reuters/Kamil Krzaczynski

Using predictive analytics, Flightsayer also informs users about these issues and presents alternatives.

That’s the primary mission of another relatively new player. For a fee, Freebird gives domestic U.S. travelers protection. It automatically presents to travelers via mobile devices the opportunity to instantly book a new flight once their original is officially cancelled or delayed at least four hours, or if they miss a connection.

Co-founder and CEO Ethan Bernstein during a November interview claimed Freebird can “detect the likelihood of disruption hours and sometimes days before others.”

The company has a direct-to-consumer product but lately it has been focused on TMC reseller arrangements. Flight Centre’s corporate travel division and Casto Travel already have signed up. Bernstein said others are in the pipeline.

Freebird said clients of TMCs can apply the service for specific employee groups (maybe VIPs), for certain types of trips (customer-facing meetings, speaking gigs, etc.) and for specific sets of routes.

Integration is accomplished via APIs. In that way, travelers get messages through whichever platform their TMC uses.

Once travelers accept the alternative flight presented, Freebird does the booking. It integrates with GDSs. All passenger info from the original booking is used for the replacement booking. Freebird uses the TMC’s pseudo city code so the TMC gets credit. The new passenger name record goes directly into the TMC’s systems. Freebird sends a message to the agency’s mid-office informing them of the new PNR. TMCs still handle customer support.

Clients and TMCs can configure Freebird so alternative flights abide by corporate policies. Freebird, though, encourages corporate and TMC users to “open up their policy and not restrict availability in those moments of disruption,” Bernstein said. “Let travelers pick what is best for them.”

The service is priced by flight ($19 one way/$34 roundtrip during an introductory period) or as a subscription. Bernstein said the latter is more suited for corporate travel, with client costs calculated based on a year’s worth of travel data.

He described a “risk model” that the company has been working on. The goal is to understand how likely delays and cancellations are for specific flights and price the product accordingly. For example, Los Angeles-Phoenix in the summer is a much different risk profile than Chicago-Boston in the winter.

A future product expansion would see Freebird using the risk model to inform agencies and travelers about expected delays before they occur. That would allow for more proactive itinerary adjustments.

Marc Casto of Casto Travel today indicated that Freebird is soft-launching for some clients this week.

Travel and Transport also is working on making more informed booking choices. A planned enhancement later this year would enable its point-of-sale information system to estimate the risk of a missed connection. “It would give the agent insight and highlight if there is a back-up,” said vice president of customer solutions Joel Bailey. The first flight choice “may still be the best option for the traveler, but this will allow the agent to consult with them.”

Disruption management is crucial for TMCs. Some have been improving their services in this area. Travel Leaders Corporate, for example, now offers a monitoring and rebooking service via mobile devices. Called Travel Leaders Connect, it informs travelers when flights are disrupted and puts them in touch with a live agent for rebooking.

Airlines, too, have been refining disruption services. Delta, which claimed a first in 2011 when its mobile app began facilitating cancelled or delayed flight rebooking, is working with Travelport on another app, according to Travelport CEO Gordon Wilson.

Wilson played out a scenario during a Feb. 21 interview: “There’s a weather front coming and you are not going to go tonight. You need to have a hotel. We are live-testing an app with Delta at the moment which enables their passengers — according to tier, status or whatever — to get accommodated in real time at a hotel. They don’t have to stand in line.”

Delta officials declined to provide details.

In another recent development, United today announced a new online portal that empowers corporate and TMC clients to, among other things, easily access info on weather waivers.

Additional info: Resilient Ops is about two years old. It received funding from NASA to help build an air traffic control system that addresses both manned and unmanned aircraft. Freebird received funding from General Catalyst, Accomplice and Slow Ventures. Bernstein also mentioned a few angel advisors, including Carlson Wagonlit Travel CEO Kurt Ekert, TripIt co-founder Scott Hintz and travel industry vet Mitch Gross.


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