With the launch of Google Flights, the mega search engine has now officially unwrapped its first ITA Software-powered flight search tool.
Google Flights (google.com/flights) looks to be a work in progress and currently offers only results for round-trip economy-class flights for a limited number of U.S. cities.
Even so, the map-based functionality and query volumes it can generate in association with Google search and Google Maps make it a formidable competitor to existing flight search engines.
When someone types in a query on Google.com, like “flights from Chicago to Denver,” a “Flights” link shows up in the left bar which will take the user to the Google.com/flights page.
The tool also has a number of attractive features beyond traditional flight search. For example, you can explore possible destinations based on airline, flight time and price. You can choose to find destinations within three hours and $300 from San Francisco, and all the possible destinations will show up on the map as a solid blue dot. Hover over one of the dots to find the cheapest available flight for that route.
To compare multiple locations, you can enter up to five airport codes in the “from” and “to” fields. Once you have the destination figured out, the calendar visualization tool makes it easy to find the best date to get the lowest price.
As far as booking is concerned, Google Flights is currently offering booking links only for the airline websites in question, leaving everyone else in the lurch.
Kayak, which is among those most threatened by Google’s $700 million acquisition of ITA Software and foray into flight search, put out a statement which says, “We’re confident in our ability to compete, and we believe our flight search technology is superior.”
The Fairsearch coalition created to oppose the Google-ITA merger also had a fairly predictable response with a post titled “In travel search, the other shoe drops.”
The shoe has dropped, but it would be premature to say that Google is going to throw them out of flight search mid-air, without a parachute.
In a blog post on the Inside Search blog, Google engineering director Kourosh Gharachorloo said that they are working to “create additional opportunities” for others in the travel industry who might want to participate.
“This is just an early look: the takeoff, not the final destination!,” said Gharachorloo. “We’re working hard to improve this feature and look forward to sharing more updates.”