If there was ever a case study for disruptive innovation, this is it.
Skiplagged, a tiny travel startup run by 22 year old entrepreneur Aktarer Zaman has been on the front page of just about every business website recently. There’s good reason for it as well. To begin, the company seems like a traveler’s best friend, offering its users access to “hidden city” airfare.
The term relates to a practice whereby customers can book trips using their final destination as a layover as part of a longer journey. Practically speaking, if someone wanted to travel from New York to Houston, they can book a flight to (for example) Los Angeles instead, with their layover being in Houston, and them simply disembarking there.
Specific travel patterns are analyzed through the site, and allow users to find cheaper routes to where they want to go.
Of course, airlines might not be fond of the empty seats on their planes generated through the system, which essentially exploits holes in their own pricing mechanism. As in any instance where innovation creates a cost-efficient alternative for consumers, the logical response would be to either lower ticket prices across the board, or simply out-innovate the newcomer through some other means. If all else fails, they can simply buy the company out. That’s what happens in these cases right?
No, they just sued them.
A few days ago, United Airlines and booking site Orbitz announced a lawsuit against the company’s founder. Both travel giants are claiming $75,000 in damages for lost revenue, and are crying foul for “unfair competition” by Skiplagged. Furthermore, United felt the need to include “public safety concerns” to the charge, which given their history in that department, along with their less than spectacular customer support practices, could be considered by some as quite ironic.
In response, Skiplagged, which is short on the kind of financial backing required to take on these two industry giants has created a crowdfunding campaign to cover legal expenses in the run up to the court case.
What Makes a Startup Great
Although much of the media coverage has been related to the legal battle, the actual service Skiplagged is offering consumers shouldn’t be overlooked.
The homepage features a selection of available trips, along with a search option where users can enter their own desired routes. International options are also available. It should be noted though that hidden city travel options only work in cases where the flight is one way, and the traveler only submits carry-on baggage.
An “airfare-watch” page provides insight into destinations with high search frequency on the site, steering user interest.
Given the current state of affairs regarding the venture’s future, it’s almost impossible to make any predictions on its expansion potential, or on the creation of similar platforms in the future. If anything, Skiplagged offers valuable insight into the innovation prospects still available in the travel field, along with potential cost-efficient alternatives to both airline websites, as well as the booking pages we’ve become accustomed to in recent years.