Airline timetables online

aeroplaneInspired by this fine post on the Travel Lists blog by Alastair McKenzie, bemoaning the apparent demise of the route map on airline websites – at which point, a hat-tip to David Whitley at Grumpy Traveller for his own immortal homage to KLM’s map (click to enlarge) – here’s an extra plea.

Timetables (or, if you prefer, schedules). Easy, you would’ve thought. Every airline’s got one. I don’t want to make a test booking, because I don’t even know my exact dates (or, perhaps, even my rough dates). I just want to find out when you fly between point A and point B. That would help me to decide whether to fly with you, or with your more sociably-timed competitor. It would help me to work out whether to fly into that particular destination airport, or one on the other side of the city. It would make me feel like you understand the thinking process I go through when I plan my travel.

Piggybacking on Alastair’s excellent research, as he says:

…very, (very, very) often our first question for an airline website is not: “What is the fare for a single adult traveller from Manchester to Minsk departing Oct 14 & returning Oct 21?”

More often, it’s something like this:

1. I want (have) to go to Minsk. Do you fly to Minsk, Airline X?

2. Airline X, do you fly to Minsk out of my nearest airport, Manchester?

3. So, Airline X, when do you fly from Manchester to Minsk?

Now, the trouble is I’m not as good a travel journalist as Alastair is, and I can’t be bothered to go through fifty airline websites, like he did, to find out who might offer me a straight answer to Question 3 – but here’s my guess: very, very few.

Some airlines won’t offer any sort of timetable option at all, forcing me to do multiple test bookings for specific dates (ideally with a ‘flexible’ or ‘+/- 7 days’ option) and then wade through fare results.

Many airlines will offer some kind of qualified answer to Question 3, allowing me to do a timetable search without fares but insisting on specific dates and then returning results either tied to those dates (forcing me to multiclick ‘Next Day’) or, in some cases, offering me a grid-style view of time/date options a week or so either side.

Some airlines, deep in their small print, may also offer me a PDF of their complete timetable for the current period (usually March-Oct or Oct-March, sometimes monthly). That gives me a straight answer to Question 3, but forces me into time-wasting downloads and reams of scrolling through static PDFs. And is still no good if I want to know flight times more than one/two/six months ahead.

Is it so difficult to extract information from that PDF – or, rather, crunch it before it gets tabulated for the PDF – into a simple search, so that I can just click ‘Manchester’, ‘Minsk’, ‘Find’, and your website will show me something like this:

rjscreenshot(Credit to Royal Jordanian for this – or, rather, limited credit to them, since their ‘current timetable’ only covers this month, July 2013. Doh!).

Is this all far more complicated than I’m imagining? I don’t think so. Lufthansa manage it pretty well – except they insist on creating a PDF of their results. Gah! Gimme the info, then let me decide how to save it!

Seems to me it’s a design issue. The airline has the information I want, but its website is so poorly designed that I can’t access it.

Or am I wrong?

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2 Comments

  1. Alastair McKenzie (@alastairmck)

    Thanks for you kind words, Matthew. 🙂

    The truth is, as I’m sure others will point out sooner or later, there are other ways to do that research, such as comparison sites like Skyscanner or Kayak who open with the dreaded booking form, but you can enter “whole year” or “flexible” in the dates fields. They may give clues as to which, if any airlines fly to a destination, but invariably as soon as you click on one, you are handed to the airline’s website, which immediately wants to know dates again…. back to square one!

    Ironically, the easiest way to find out is to ask Google. The “Manchester to Minsk flights” query yields Belavia – Belarusian Airlines, who have a simple timetable, which means you are not forced to try different test dates.

    I’m rather warming to Belavia. They also have an excellent interactive route map (found by accident on their ticketing page) which shows that I can change at Minsk for all sorts of exotic places like Ashgabat, Pavlodar, Konstanay, Sochi, Tbilsi, Karaganda, Astana, Samara, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Baku, Simferopol, Gomel, Kaliningrad, Tehran, and more.

    Now that’s the kind of travel inspiration you get from a route map, not a form!

  2. Matthew Teller

    Thanks, Alastair.

    Not sure why I didn’t know about the ‘whole year’ thing on Skyscanner – thank you for that; my bad – but still, as you say, it only gives clues, not answers. Their whole search concept is – justifiably – hooked around fares and availability, when all I want to know is flight times.

    Also, there are crucial differences between Skyscanner on the web and the Skyscanner phone app – even in the ‘whole year’ option, the phone app (which I use most often) doesn’t name airlines, only airports and prices. That’s not even a clue – that’s a clue to a clue. Doh!

    Flight times, surely, count as plain, simple ordinary airline information that should be out there. When did timetables get lost in the design shuffle?

    Kayak drives me up the wall. Maybe I’m using it wrong, but it’s never my go-to choice for flight info.

    As for Minsk to Tehran, well, there’s a route to conjure with…

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