Routehappy is about to launch a new way for travelers to search for flights — and TechCrunch readers can actually take a look now. The idea, as explained to me by co-founder and CEO Robert Albert, is to move beyond the focus on price and schedule that you find on every other flight search site. Sure, those things are important, but as I noted when Routehappy raised seed funding last year, when you suddenly find yourself stuck in a cramped seat without Wi-Fi, you realize that other factors matter, too.
So Routehappy has built a big database of information drawn from “hundreds of sources” — including commercial data providers (mostly for on-time data), reviews, and the airlines themselves. It then looks at the various factors that a traveler might consider and combines them into a “happiness score” between 1 and 10. So if a flight has lots of leg room, a great entertainment system, and Wi-Fi, it should get a high score. And actually, schedule does play a role in the score — for example, there’s a demerit if there’s a long layover or if it’s a red eye flight, because those things will probably make you unhappy.
Albert gave me a tour of the site, where he showed me lots of different searches. His main point: There are plenty of improvements that Routehappy can help you identify that don’t make a big difference in the price. He pointed to flights where the difference between WiFi and no WiFi, or between a personal entertainment system and those crappy overhead TV screens, was only a small percentage of the overall price, or there was no difference at all. He also pointed out that choosing by airline isn’t enough — there are some airlines with a significant difference between the planes in their fleet.
I was particularly impressed by Routehappy’s interface. Although searching by happiness is not something I’m used to (the closest thinge I’ve seen is Hipmunk‘s “agony” ranking), it was easy to understand how to use the site. You can also filter your results based on specific factors (I’m guessing a lot of you would be most interested in Wi-Fi), or, yes, on price — I kind of like the idea of ranking flights by price and then choosing the cheapest one that doesn’t seem totally miserable. There are also nice little touches, like Routehappy’s ridicule of planes that still have overhead entertainment systems — “What is this, the ’80s?”
As for how reliable this data is, well, there’s definitely some acknowledged uncertainty. On the Wi-Fi front, there are flights that are simply listed as “yes” or “no,” but also others that say “maybe” or “test.” Albert said some airlines are actually happy to work with Routehappy, because “they don’t want to be commoditized,” but he noted that even their data can be wrong, and that he’s tried to help them correct their own information at times.
When I asked how he can be sure that Routehappy’s data is better than the airline’s, he declined to get specific, saying that this is part of the “secret sauce.” (Actually, he offered more details than that — see update below.) Still, he insisted that it’s the most accurate information out there. He also acknowledged that there’s a small chance that you could still get surprised, particularly if an airline switches planes, but he said that happens less than 5 percent of the time.