Dear Travel Industry, Please Pardon our Current Disruption

Last week my company, Travelaer, launched a conversion optimization tool called Right Flight that gives airlines a competitive edge in converting direct, online bookings by providing their Customers with competitive airline flight comparisons. It was as if we disturbed a sleepy bear! After a few days of glowing headlines from industry movers like Skift and TNooz we started to see a shift in the media’s tone.

On Thursday, Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk published a story about Right Flight with a fake news-style headline:

Within the story is where things got really interesting. According to Silk, two consumer advocacy organizations — the Air Travel Fairness Coalition and Travelers United — both expressed alarm about the Right Flight model. Keep in mind, these questions of Right Flight’s fairness are originating from the leaders of consumer advocacy organizations — shortly after we launched a digital product designed to empower consumers. To boot, neither organization reached out to me or my team for an interview or demo prior to running to the press.

“Already, airlines are deciding which online travel sites are allowed to present their prices and availability,” Travelers United chairman Charlie Leocha said. “Now, within their own sites airlines will be able to cherry-pick comparison flights that will make their offerings look better. This is totally unacceptable and could be considered unfair and deceptive by [the Department of Transportation.]”

Leocha, bless his heart, is struggling to imagine a world where the evil airlines would actually provide full transparency to their travelers. The Right Flight model is simply too foreign of a concept for these dusty, old advocacy groups to trust the airlines with. Instead of embracing this shift each one has taken the position that the airlines will engage in unfair and deceptive practices. Leocha immediately assumed, after 20+ comfortable years of living off the public’s dole, that the airlines can and will manipulate Right Flight’s results for competitive purposes.

Not only is that a faulty position, but the reality is I never said the airlines could manipulate Right Flight’s comparison results in that manner. What I’ve said to the media is that airlines could decide when it was best to display Right Flight. So, an airline may decide, for example, on a route where they aren’t competitively priced, to avoid showing any Right Flight results, but they can’t manipulate or game the system. Not showing anything is very different from the airline’s selectively showing results that are worse than their own. Doing so too, would kill the experience for the user, who would likely gravitate away from searching for flight’s on that airline’s page for good.

Of course, I never had a chance to explain that to Leocha before he decided to go public with his analysis. And before I had a chance to publish any sort of rebuttal another story published, this time in a European publication:

Right Flight: Know the controversial software that ‘handles results

And again Leocha went on a misinformed attack against Right Flight. At this point, it seems like Leocha is desperate for some sort of response from Travelear by bringing his fight to Europe (Travelaer is based in France). So, here it goes:

Dear Charlie,

First of all thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you; we just can’t say it enough. Thank you for your recent efforts to not only provide deeper media exposure for Travelaer and its new Right Flight product, but for validating the very reason Travelaer exists — that is, to disrupt the travel industry in a positive manner! In fact, with Right Flight we are on a mission to not only dramatically improve transparency for consumers, but also provide the airlines with data that can help them learn how to better increase the chances that consumers will book a flight on their site rather than an Orbitz or Expedia. We call that a win-win.

Isn’t that why you do what you do? According to your bio, your core focus is on competition, comparison-shopping, airline price transparency, passenger rights, education, privacy, re-imagining TSA search processes, UAS integration and air traffic control developments. You sound like you really care about the traveler and his or her rights, and your history suggests deep knowledge on the subjects mentioned above. Someone in your position should do exactly what you did once you saw the Right Flight news — react.

Here is where you and I differ. Rather than react after gathering the essential data (such as an interview with me), you reacted based on what I’d consider a jaded perspective from perhaps too many years spent studying the airlines’ bevvy of mistakes. For proof, you reached out to a journalist at Travel Weekly. Next time, try pitching that reaction to Skift or TNooz. They are the clear leaders in travel and technology related news at the moment.

Or perhaps you did and Skift shot you down for peddling innuendo? This was the Skift Take on Right Flight:

If they can’t beat the online travel companies, airlines might as well try to copy those companies’ slickest moves. A couple of carriers are testing the display of flights on rival airlines in an attempt to prevent consumers from clicking away to shop elsewhere. — Sean O’Neill

No mention of unfairness or deception. Keep in mind, I spoke with the Skift writer and ran him through a Right Flight product demonstration for at least an hour ahead of him writing his story.

I’d be willing to travel to D.C. just to meet with you, Charlie, and to give you a similar demo. We can likely become fast friends and allies once you gain an understanding of what it is we do at Travelear and why we do it. We are both on the same mission — to improve the travel industry, and so there’s no sense in us waging a media war when we can instead work together.

Best regards,

Mike Slone, founder and CEO of Travelaer