Sunday, 04 February 2018 22:15

Google's machine learning can predict future flight delays

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It's only set up to work with US airlines American, Delta and United, but Google's Flights app can now predict flight delays in advance, all in the quest to make travel better and cheaper.

Google's official blog has posted an update on the "Google Flights" app, which I've never heard of before, but which is now making global news thanks to the power of machine learning and predictive abilities.

The blog post is entitled "Get help with cheaper flights and potential flight delays this winter" and is written by Anket Mathur and Grace Dance, both Flights Product Managers at Google.

As the blog post is written for a US audience, it talks about the winter they're experiencing while we, here in the sunny Southern Hemisphere, are baking through recent heatwaves while waiting for cooler temperatures to finally emerge.

That said, we can easily understand why Google's product managing duo note how skiers and snowboarders are hitting the slopes, while others seek out tropical getaways where there's presumably not a single snowflake in sight, except perhaps in the deep freezers in those tropical supermarkets.

So, no matter where you are in the world, or your reason for flying, flight delays at airports can be very stressful, and Google says its Flights app "can now help you predict those flight delays, and we’re also introducing a new feature to help you feel confident about finding the cheapest fare no matter where you’re going".

With Google's algorithms growing ever more powerful, it's a promise you certainly expect is true, but whether Google will ever become Godgle is presumably a flight of fancy that humanity can ill-afford, cheapest fare or no.

What humans can afford are the new fare types Google's blog post tells us about, dubbed “Basic Economy”.

Article continues below image, please read on. 

We're told these "are great for people traveling on a budget, but it can be confusing to understand whether important options — like overhead bin space, ability to select your seat, and baggage fees — are included in the fare".

These types of bare-minimum flights are on offer in Australia, too, but until Google Flights operates on more airlines than simply American, Delta and United, we'll just have to wait until Google Flights truly goes global.

Besides the "stress" of waiting for Google Flights to take off globally, we're told that "one of the most stressful parts of traveling happens between heading to the airport and waiting to board your flight, as you start checking to see if your flight is on time".

Naturally, anyone who has ever flown a few flights now this to be only too true, but the power of Google means that while the Google Flights app "already shows delays" for those lucky Americans able to use it, the app now shares"reasons for those delays and delay predictions too".

Google says it does this "using historic flight status data", and says its "machine learning algorithms can predict some delays even when this information isn’t available from airlines yet – and delays are only flagged when we’re at least 80% confident in the prediction".

As you'd expect, Google's product managers says they "still recommend getting to the airport with enough time to spare, but hope this information can manage expectations and prevent surprises".

If you have access to the Google Flights app, you can "simply search for your flight (“American 4442”) or the airline and flight route (“Air New Zealand Auckland to Singapore”), and these details will appear right in your search results".

Google's product managers offer a final piece of advice: "Don’t let uncertainty — whether it’s understanding the fine print of fare options or navigating potential delays — keep you from your next vacation. We’ll help you get to those sunnier skies."

Well, if you use one of the three airlines in question, that is, but with Google seeking to organise the world's information, and not just that of the US, there can be no doubt that Google Flights will touch down for Aussies at some point, too, if it isn't already being tested globally on an "under the radar" basis. 


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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