Skift Take

Google Assistant will soon start sending flight-delay notifications on mobile, and informing travelers about the reasons behind the disruption to their itineraries. This could be a really great service, and Google will do it at scale. Rest assured that an automated flight-rebooking service won't be too far behind.

Nearly a year ago, Google began providing flight delay predictions, but in the next few weeks it plans on taking its services a step further: Google said its Google Assistant service will begin sending notifications on mobile when it predicts travelers fights will be delayed — and to offer reasons for the foul-ups.

Google Assistant, which is available on Android and iOS phones, as well as Google Home, might send out a notification predicting that a traveler’s flight will be subject to a 30-minute delay because the incoming flight is tardy, but the passenger should still be on time or not, wrote Google’s Richard Holden, vice president of product management for travel, in a blog post.

Google presumably knows whether travelers are booked on certain flights because Google tracks travel bookings and confirmations via its Gmail service, for example.

Plenty of airlines and apps such as FlightAware send notifications or enable travelers to track the progress of flights, but none have Google’s reach. If a traveler is sitting at home and asks Google Home about a delay, Google is using artificial intelligence and other data feeds to anticipate and inform users about flights that are off-schedule. And it is taking the added step of sending notifications to travelers’ mobile devices.

Early this year, United Airlines began a limited pilot program, Every Flight Has a Story, to better inform passengers about the reason their flights would be delayed. The new upcoming service from Google Assistant is providing a similar service, but scaling it up to a far greater extent.

Expedia’s Fears

Earlier this month, Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom said that Google — and not the most-likely suspect, Booking Holdings — is Expedia’s greatest competitor. “The internet has been littered with the bodies of companies put out of business by Google,” Okerstrom said.

Okerstrom said the trajectory of Google’s travel operations, including the ever-growing array of services it offers, and the pace at which it is rolling out these services, make Google the most formidable competitor for Expedia.

It Won’t Be Long

Flight notifications from Google Assistant, if they begin as scheduled in a few weeks, are a substantial next step in the evolution of Google’s travel offerings. But there’s so much more Google and others can do to smooth out the pain that comes with flight disruptions.

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel, speaking at a Nasdaq investor conference earlier this month in London, talked about the angst and inconvenience travelers often experience at airports, and technology’s potential to smooth things over.

“You’re at the airport and you got a flight canceled,” Fogel said. “And then it’s like, oh my god and now you’re either in a line with 200 other people or you’re frantically going to your phone where you’re just talking to what, oh, your corporate travel person, and they’re doing it for you, right? Yes, none of those things are great.

“Wouldn’t it be great as a plane was being canceled that it was automatically coming up with what the alternative was and you saw on your phone, OK here, you got to go down to Gate 5 instead of where you are at Gate 42 and it’ll be leaving in one-and-a-half hours, and you don’t have to do a thing. Those are the type of things that technology can make happen.”

Expedia, meanwhile, has spoken of working on rebooking services that would solve the sort of airport dilemma that Fogel of rival Booking Holdings makes reference to. It would be no surprise that Booking Holdings, since Fogel mentioned the issue, is working on a solution, as well.

Rest assured that Google is likely already working on this — or has some sort of rebooking service in its game plan.


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Tags:, expedia, flight delays, google, google assistant, mobile

Photo credit: This April 22, 2013 photo shows travelers standing in line at the LAX International Airport in Los Angeles. Google is debuting a service predicting flight delays and informing passengers the reasons why. Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

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