You've chosen flights by price, you've chosen them by departure time, you've even chosen them by the type of plane used — but US startup Routehappy has a new hook: how happy you'll feel on the plane.
"All flights are not created equal," is the Routehappy declaration of independence, and CEO Robert Albert explains: "We're creating a new and better way for flyers to research and shop for flights."
Search for a flight between two airports on a certain date, and Routehappy sorts the results by its signature Happiness Score rating system, and then by schedule -- letting you pick the overall highest-scoring flight.
"We're adding prices (in the US first) so Routehappy users can see Happiness Scores and price at the same time," Albert explains.
Happiness Scores take into account legroom, seat width, entertainment, power points, wifi, on-time records and Routehappy's user review scores for the airline.
"We've collected over 130,000 contributions from flyers from more than 60 countries," Routehappy's Albert explains, with visitors "from all 6 Australian states, the ACT and the Northern Territory. Among them, users in WA have stayed on the site the longest but Sydney (predictably) wins for the most visits."
Among those Australian users is regular business traveller Janel Pratt, a Routehappy member since the site launched, the Route Expert for Sydney-Melbourne, and an elite frequent flyer with Qantas and Virgin Australia.
"Posting my flight experiences to routehappy has caused me to change the way I approach my travel planning process," Pratt tells Australian Business Traveller. "I now take a few minutes to check out what other travellers have said about what made them happy or unhappy about the route I'm planning."
And Pratt gleans what she calls "interesting tidbits of information" about her upcoming trip from Routehappy reviews: things like the Qantas Museum near gates 11/13 at Sydney domestic and the paltry food or convenience shop after security at Perth domestic. Routehappy notes those down as "Gems" in its reviews.
Usefully, Routehappy flags whether its users are elite frequent flyers, which helps other regular travellers spot reviews that are relevant to their experience (and perhaps skip the gripes or gems breathlessly scribed by someone flying for the first time in decades).
The trick is getting the data correct
Australian Business Traveller took a look at Routehappy's results this week. While there's still a fair bit of cruft in the system, the week we've noticed step-change improvements to the data all week.
Perhaps understandably as a US-based company, not all the promised functions work outside the US yet, and some of the Australian data is still a bit shonky, Albert is the first to admit.
"Our mission is a very complex undertaking - and we're still building, collecting, improving, fixing and perfecting," Albert says honestly.
Data comes from publicly available airline information, which is often less than fully accurate: airlines average out numbers, round figures in ways that don't always stand up to scrutiny, and measure things differently. And Albert acknowledges that Australian airline review scores are based on just 55 reviews of Qantas and 38 of Virgin Australia at the time of writing.
In fact, Albert suggests Routehappy can be particularly useful for business travellers in what he calls "unfamiliar places", flagging up useful nuggets of info on the routes that you don't know much about.
How Routehappy's results stack up with the real world
Australian Business Traveller checked the highly competitive business class market between New York and London (using the NYC and LON codes to take in all airports in both cities). Overall, Routehappy's fairly reflective of our thoughts, although its business class data needs some attention.
For example, Virgin Atlantic's newer business class (with inflight Internet) scores below its older, less comfortable business class, and the search categories of "biz or better" and "best premium" overlap oddly. (American Airlines returns only business class for the former, but only first class for the latter, while British Airways returns only business for both searches.)
Los Angeles to San Francisco in economy squares up much more closely with AusBT's take on the route: the best inflight experience is on Virgin America, with a score of 9.1, followed by United's newest 737-900 nearly two full points behind at 7.3 and the other airlines much of a muchness from there. The extra legroom, wider seats, entertainment, power and wifi that Routehappy factors in are all big points in our Virgin America plus column too.
Closer to home, the results still need a bit of massaging: the entertainment section is a bit skew-whiff on our side of the Pacific, Australian on-time ratings aren't folded in yet, user ratings are based on a small sample, and you can't actually book the United flights that Routehappy lists: the airline can't sell them unless as part of an international trip.
But we reckon Routehappy's already useful for planning US flights or for researching unfamiliar trips — and we'll be keeping an eye on this startup in 2013. Check it out at routehappy.com.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter for all the latest news, reviews and information: we're @AusBT.
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.