One-on-One with Robert Albert, Founder & CEO of Routehappy

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  1. In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Robert Albert, CEO of Routehappy, a newcomer to the travel meta search market. Routehappy is focused on enhancing the flight experience for flyers and giving the air travel industry a place to highlight their differentiators and latest innovations. They’ve developed a ‘Happiness Score’ for every flight in the world. Happiness Scores weigh amenities by flight (and class of service) and tips from fellow flyers to help travelers – even expert flyers – make better decisions about their options, bringing quality and experience into flight shopping. The team’s mission is simple: to bring happiness back to air travel. Something we can all certainly get behind!

    Robert Albert, CEO, Routehappy

    “All flights are not created equal; savvy flyers know this and spend too much time combing the web for information about their flights. Routehappy aims to make it a lot easier to find the best flights every time you fly.”
    – Robert Albert, CEO, Routehappy​
    1. How would you describe the void Routehappy fills in a cluttered travel meta search market? Would you say your service somewhat models TripAdvisor and Zagat?
    Partially, but we’re truly one-of-a kind. We’ve built a platform for real flyers to share their experiences and are using their ratings as feedback on the quality and level of ‘Happiness’ other flyers can expect in-flight. We define Happiness as a combination of hard data on flight amenities and quality such as what kind of seat is offered by cabin, tech-friendly services available on the flight and aircraft quality – combined with flyer ratings from experts like your readers. We’re creating a unique decision support tool to make shopping for air travel a process that includes aspects of the experience itself, together with price, schedule and mileage. Flyers care about their experience, and we’re filling the important gap between price and product that has driven consumer frustration for the last decade.
    While our flight listings make it easy for flyers to compare overall quality – by cabin and on any route –our user ratings, tips and photos give fellow flyers more insight into any aspect of the experience. Routehappy is the only place you can find details like the best way to get to and from the airport, what quality of food is at the airport, what boarding is like and how good the movie selection is on the plane.
    The best analogy for Routehappy may be a modern and dynamic Consumer Reports for flights –we’re a little bit TripAdvisor, Zagat, Yelp, CNET, Consumer Reports, Four Square and Kayak rolled into one really useful tool focused on making flight shopping better for all.
    2. The power of Routehappy lies in its aggregation, organization and translation of data. How are you compiling this data? And, for your UGC data from members – why are they giving it?
    Data on the air travel experience is disparate and disorganized, so we have to compile it from thousands of different sources. Our data comes in three broad categories: hard data on flights, user generated content in the form of flyer ratings, and Routehappy’s proprietary Happiness Scores by flight, that tie it all together.
    Starting with hard data on flights, we’re building what we believe is the industry’s most comprehensive and reliable database of experience-oriented aircraft, seat and amenities data by cabin and specific aircraft (down to the sub fleet) for the world’s airlines. We’re compiling data from commercial and industry data sources, airlines themselves, airline vendors, government databases, aircraft manufacturers, airline experts – and we cross reference our data to make sure it’s as accurate and up to date as possible. The data does not exist in a standardized format, so we’re mapping amenities into sensible categories that are easy for everyone to understand and use. We’ve matched our data with global flight schedules so users can do a simple flight search and get a comprehensive listing of every flight on a route and what they offer, for the first time.
    Secondly, we have an easy-to-use and social platform that encourages users to share their flight experiences. Our passionate community of flyers has shared more than 120,000 contributions over the past year. Flyers have a variety of motivations to share, including:
    • Helping fellow flyers (flyer karma)
    • Taking part of a large effort that they know will transform an industry (creating the world’s first flight rating system and unique set of specific tips)
    • The satisfaction of telling airlines, airports and others what you think and have your voice heard
    • It is fun and rewarding to share your knowledge and be recognized for it (for example, becoming a Route Expert on Routehappy and being followed by fellow Routehappy users based on your insights)
    We frequently hear from flyers who have used our site and iPhone app to find ‘hidden gems,’ like how to find the “hidden” security lines when flying United at SFO, and ‘flyer bewares’, like making sure to order your food early on Virgin America before they run out. We’re making it easier for flyers to have the best possible experience when they fly – and making it easier for the industry to know what is working well and not so well.
    We’ve taken all of our data and combined it to create an easy new way to differentiate flights by quality: Happiness Scores! In just a few seconds, you can easily compare flights on any route in the world by aircraft quality, seat type, entertainment, in-seat power, Wi-Fi, On-Time performance (US routes for now) and Flyer Ratings. We currently cover all non-stop routes and have comprehensively “mapped” amenities on all aircraft of 120 of the world’s largest and most popular airlines useful to our users, with more added every day.
    3. What is the Routehappy HappinessScore?
    The Routehappy Happiness Score is a one-of-a-kind algorithm we’ve created from our data that ranks individual flights by quality of the experience based on the most important Happiness Factors: aircraft quality, seat type, entertainment, availability of in-seat power, W-Fi and Flyer Ratings, collected directly from user reviews of the airline.
    Flyers can now see if a slight adjustment to their travel plans (schedule, price or airline) means the difference between a cramped seat, staring at a movie on an overhead monitor for 4+ hours with no Wi-Fi, or flying more comfortably on an alternate flight with a roomier seat, in-seat entertainment and Wi-Fi. Even savvy frequent flyers benefit from easily seeing the differences between the many flights offered by a single airline on a popular route. It may be the difference between a satisfying and enjoyable experience and an unhappy one. Why not try to have the best experience possible every time you fly?
    4. What are some of the things that have surprised you about flyers’ reviews?
    Reading flyer reviews has been a fun and educational part of developing Routehappy.
    First off, most reviewers are really fair and balanced. We find most reviewers to be generous with their praise and constructive in their critiques. We also see how much the experience matters to people in our reviews. We’re all human beings – and we like to be comfortable, well taken care of and have our expectations met well. You can see in Routehappy reviews how little things make people very happy and often it’s also small things that upset people and turn an experience bad. Staff and crew helpfulness and friendliness is mentioned a lot. The human element is an important one.
    Themes shine through in our member reviews. Flyers pretty much love Southwest Airlines and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport; they don’t at all like flying through LAX (new international terminal coming not a moment too soon);RyanAir has managed to set their customers’ expectations (low) pretty well; Delta can be surprisingly good; and Korean Airlines is among the nicest ways to fly to Asia.
    And, our members share really wonderful “hidden” gems, too. From less crowded security lines, to better food in airports, to the best ways to and from an airport (E train to JFK for example, or Heathrow Express versus Heathrow Connect in London); make sure to pick the “right” Emirates planes for the best experience (they’re not all created equal); a vodka bar on Korean’s A380 business class; how great Lot Polish has become; Air India from New York to Mumbai is actually pretty good; US Airways flights with roomier seats in standard, no extra charge economy (look for their A321 flights!) and a lot more. Flight by flight, flyers are sharing valuable travel gems and things to avoid to make flying better for everyone.
    5. According to your Flyer Perspectives infographic, the most rated flight experience attributes are seat comfort and crew. Which airlines are rated highest in these categories?
    Most flyers tie their overall experience to the comfort of their seat and how the crew treated them through the flight (from gate to gate). From Routehappy’s more than 120,000 contributions from members, we looked at US airlines with more than 50 member reviews on seat comfort and crew and found some surprises.
    Crew Rankings According to Routehappy Member Reviews:
    Top Crew: 90-96% positive rating
    • Alaska (96%)
    • Southwest (94%)
    • Virgin America (92%)
    • jetBlue (90%)
    Making Most Flyers Happy: 84-85% positive rating
    • Delta (85%)
    • US Airways (84%)
    Tough Times: 75% positive rating
    • American (It’s proven that American has seen better days, but we wish them the best moving forward.)
    Seat Comfort Rankings According to Routehappy Member Reviews:
    Most comfortable: 90% positive rating
    • jetBlue (94%)
    • Virgin America (91%)
    Usually comfortable: 80-88% positive rating
    • Southwest (88%)
    • US Airways (87%)
    • Alaska (83%)
    Somewhat Comfortable: 71-75% positive rating
    • United (75%)
    • Delta (72%)
    Bring a Cushion: 64% positive rating
    • American
    6. You seem to be showing data that already exists, either on the airlines own website or via other ratings websites, such as FlightStats or SeatGuru. How do you differentiate yourself among more established offerings?
    We’re actually focusing on unique data from other sites for some of our in-flight amenity research, as we don’t want to re-invent the wheel. Seat Guru is great at providing specific seat recommendations after you’ve bought your ticket and FlightStats is good for flight tracking once you’re ready to go. We look at those two sites (and others) as potential partners as we focus on helping flyers evaluate the quality of specific flights before they book. No other site has a Happiness Score assessing all the factors of plane quality, in-flight amenities and flyer ratings by cabin, in an easy-to-use interface that displays all flights that serve a single route which is useful information for a flyer searching and shopping for an ideal flight. Also, our categorization of plane quality, seats, entertainment, plugs and Wi-Fi are the most robust and up to date we’ve seen (full fleets of 120 airlines fully mapped and counting!).
    We’re also giving flyers an easy way to share their hidden gems and flyer “bewares” about specific airports, airlines and flights (on our website or on our iPhone app, which allows flyers to share while they fly) – and we make it easy to search relevant tips on aspects of the experience that matter to you when you’re in research mode.
    Our goal is to create the top resource for nearly any question that pops into your head about the air travel experience – served by the hard data we’re presenting in our flight search, ratings and tips across the experience of air travel from real flyers and our own Happiness Scores and other insights and “ah-has” we’re collecting and presenting to flyers (e.g. make sure to look at the seat info and amenities among all flights on a route – even those of the same airline – before you pick your flight as there is often a difference).
    7. Since you’ve just officially launched out of beta this month, what are your plans for the next year? Any interesting news or developments that you can share with us?
    We’re proud to have just launched Routehappy in “Pre-Boarding” mode, with a brand new interface, Happiness Scores and Happiness Factors (each filterable and sortable), Flight Details and Booking Links. We’re nearing our full launch early next year. We’ve selected Amadeus for global fare and availability information so we can include prices next to our core Happiness Scores. We’ll also be introducing more content and social features to make using Routehappy one of the most unique, useful and easy to use resources there is for flyers.

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