Google's Flight Search Takes Off

Google has started to roll out its new flight search engine, which is based on technology from ITA Software, a maker of air-travel flight-information software Google bought for US$700 million.

Now, when users enter flight-related queries in Google's main search page, Google will display an airplane icon labeled Flights in the results page left-hand column that when clicked upon will take users to the new search engine.

People can also go directly to the flight search engine's page by going to google.com/flights.

The search engine has been designed to perform extremely fast, to accommodate the frequent modifications to flight elements that travelers make when shopping around for a plane ticket, Google said on Tuesday.

The interface has been designed with simplicity in mind, so it's easy for users to see and scan a list of flight options and adjust dates and times, airlines, flight times and price.

For now, Google only displays flight results for a limited number of U.S. cities and only for round-trip economy-class flights, but it plans to broaden the engine's scope later.

When it announced its intention to buy ITA Software in July 2010, Google said its intention was to improve its own flight search capabilities because a substantial number of its users' queries are flight-related.

However, the deal also raised antitrust concerns among Google competitors and travel industry players because ITA Software customers include major airlines and online travel agencies.

After a careful review, the U.S. government gave the deal the green light but with conditions. In an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Google is required to develop and license travel software to competitors, as well as provide arbitration for complaints about fees from online travel sites, among other things.

Without those conditions, the deals would have "substantially lessened competition" among flight search websites in the U.S. and reduced choice and innovation for consumers, the DOJ said.

When the deal was announced in mid-2010, ITA Software, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and founded in 1996, had about 500 employees.

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