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USAir plane crash

January 15th, 2009 (04:20 pm)
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current mood: bemused

This afternoon, a USAir plane went down in the Hudson River. (Everybody was recovered safely.) Not surprisingly, ITA people have been talking about it a lot more than other companies would—and differently. I haven't heard anybody discussing it in the halls; it's all been on email and IRC, and all very calm, even technical. It's an odd experience.

It was flight 1549 from LaGuardia to Charlotte.


Posted by: blue shark of friendliness (ckd)
Posted at: January 16th, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)

I think this is the first successful ditching of a jetliner with underwing engines, since ALM 980 was a DC-9 and ET 961 was somewhat less than successful. (Though since the hijackers were apparently fighting the pilots all the way down, I'm surprised it was as successful as it was!)

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Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: January 16th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)

Oh, yeah, I never did post about the new job...

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Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: January 16th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
ITA's fare search

Fare search software. You know how complex the rules on how much you have to pay for a ticket are, right?

No, you don't. It's worse than that. The airline industry has spent the past 40 years making their fare rules more and more complicated, in efforts to optimize their revenue—but their legacy mainframe-based software still works the way it did 40 years ago. The agent (human or software) looks for flights you could use, chooses one, then looks for fares for that flight. So you get the cheapest fare for that flight. If you say it's too much, they may go look at another flight instead; but they're certainly not going to search all the possible ways to go from A to B.

We do.

...more or less. We ignore the ludicrous solutions (e.g., Chicago to London to LA)—but we ignore them for good reasons, so they are in the sample space we search. This kind of pruning then brings down the space to something that's still orders of magnitude larger than you'd get on a traditional system.

The result is that companies that use ITA's search engine can offer lower fares than those that use the legacy systems, not because they have lower overhead, or a special relationship with the airlines, but just because we can find those fares. Our first customer was Orbitz; these days we've got most of the major travel sites, and most of the large airlines. If you go to, say, aa.com, they're not searching their own database; they're asking us instead.

Posted by: Alexx Kay (alexx_kay)
Posted at: January 16th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
Re: ITA's fare search

"We ignore the ludicrous solutions"

Depends on your definition of ludicrous. Last time I went looking for a cheap flight from Boston to Chicago, one of the options I was given routed through Atlanta, Georgia. It *was* a very cheap route, in terms of dollars, but was way too expensive for me in hours.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: January 16th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: ITA's fare search

That's not a ludicrous solution. That's a solution that you might have wanted if you'd had less money and/or more time (e.g., if you were unemployed, and flying to a job interview).

The solutions we throw out are those that nobody in their right mind would want—e.g., a 5-minute layover, a fare 10x the lowest in the same class, a trip from Boston to New York by way of Tokyo. (If you really want to do BOS->TYO->NYC, we can do it, though—although the customer's Web site might not let you specify it.)

One I ran across that was probably just across the border in ludicrous territory: the cheapest flights from Windsor, ON to Ottawa, ON, fly through Washington, DC. You still fly through Toronto, too, but you stop in DC on the way. You save a whole dollar. We don't find this one in normal use (e.g., it doesn't show up on Air Canada's site), but our demo server can be coaxed into finding it.

Posted by: Hey You (martianfencer)
Posted at: January 17th, 2009 04:43 am (UTC)
Re: ITA's fare search

I do believe I heard about your company on NPR, but didn't make the connection!

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