Google Flights now predicts delays and shows how bad ‘basic economy’ fares really are


Google has announced two new features for its flight booking search service.

Google Flights will now try to predict when flights will be delayed using historical flight status data, and it will also now tell you what amenities are not included in a basic economy fare.

Down to basics

Delta Airlines, if you remember, helped kickstart the so-called “basic economy” airfare back in 2012, serving as a sort of rock-bottom budget tier below the traditional economy class. While it has been criticized as a cynical way to increase regular economy fares, American Airlines and United Airlines followed suit by offering the new “last class” tickets too.

One of the problems with the fare, however, is that it may not always be clear at the outset what services and amenities you’re missing out on with the budget ticket — perhaps you have to pay extra for luggage, or you may not have access to overhead bin space.

Now, Google Flights will show you what isn’t included in the fare from the outset, across Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines.

Above: Basic Economy: What it’s really like

Sorry for the delay…

Elsewhere, Google Flights will not only now tell you that a flight is delayed when it’s announced, but it will also show reasons for the delay. But more interestingly, it will also now try to predict whether a flight is likely to be delayed.

Above: Google Flights: Delayed

To do so, Google Flights will combine historical data with machine learning smarts to tell you when a delay may occur. Google said that it only flags potential delays when it’s around 80 percent confident in its predictions.

Google Flights launched in 2011, shortly after it acquired Cambridge-based flight data startup ITA Software for $ 700 million. Prior to now, Google Flights has helped travelers decide when to buy tickets by estimating when prices are likely to rise, similar to startups such as Hopper, so this latest update is complementary to that.

However, delay predictions seem to be more a proclamation of “look how clever we are” than it is actually useful. Nobody should base their travel decisions on a predicted delay, so really it’s not clear what purpose this feature serves beyond perhaps setting your expectations and saving you from a nasty surprise.

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