FlightCaster: How to Get Early Notification on Flight Delays - The Middle Seat Terminal - WSJ

by Alexis Ohanian8/24/2009

By WSJ Staff

WSJ reporter Sarah Nassauer writes:

Sitting at a boarding gate, watching a storm roll in, waiting to take off in a plane that hasn’t yet arrived from its previous destination, knowing that the airline’s promise of a ’15 min delay’ is only taunting you, can make one feel pretty helpless.

A new company launched this week aims to give fliers a heads up on flight delays long before the airline themselves makes an announcement, hoping that frequent fliers can know to rebook flights earlier and occasional fliers can know if they will be home for dinner.

FlightCaster Inc. aims to predict the likelihood of a flight arrival delay up to six hours before airlines notify passengers by crunching data on weather, a flight’s prior inbound airplane’s status, FAA updates, historical data and other information.

With flight number in hand, the predictions are free on the company’s Web site. Or get the information on iPhones or Blackberrys for a $9.99 fee (discounted to $4.99 through Aug. 20, today).

Evan Konwiser, a co-founder at FlightCaster says the company’s early internal data shows predictions on major delays — over an hour — are accurate about 85% of the time, with accuracy getting better closer to departure time. The company plans to release more data on accuracy in the coming week, he says.

The fact that airlines only tell flyers about a delay once they’re 100% sure to happen makes FlightCaster useful, says Mr. Konwiser. For frequent travelers on the company’s dime he hopes they use the earlier predictions to decided, “should I fly today or get into a train today when getting in cab from client’s office.”

There are ways the savviest travelers already do some of this without a tool like FlightCaster.
To start, airlines and many travel sites like Orbitz.com or TripIt.com offer to send out flight delay alerts by email, text message or phone call.

Flyers can track airports with flight delays on Web sites like the Federal Aviation Authorities Flight Delay Information site.

But the real sleuths track planes before they arrive for departure. If your plane hasn’t yet left Chicago, you probably aren’t taking it from Miami to New York anytime soon. Check the arrival board at the airport to get the inbound flight’s number or call the airline.

Then you can track that flight on an airline’s own Web sites or other flight tracking services like FlightStats or Flight Aware.

At least one airline has started providing similar information as part of its flight status alert tool. Continental Airlines shows where a departure aircraft is coming from, gives that flight’s number, and allows flyer to check the status of that flight on their Web site and in the flight status mobile application.

For now, FlightCaster can only be used for U.S. flights, but the company hopes to add international capability and information on available alternative flights in the future.


  • Alexis Ohanian