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Going to China

My plane ticket to Beijing finally came in. (I’m going to Beijing and Hong Kong December 13th through January 3rd.) The ticket was way more than I wanted to pay. Kayak had the price at $850, but China Eastern doesn’t sell tickets online, so I had to go through a travel agent who ended up selling me the exact same ticket for $1266 plus a $40 “service” fee, and I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to get from Beijing to Hong Kong!

There are three major industries that desperately need to be reconstructed: real estate, travel, and automotive sales. If you had asked me two weeks ago, I would have added the music industry, but Radiohead already killed it. The remaining three are perfect candidates for revolution simply because they’re plagued by the inefficiencies of middlemen. The travel agent adds next to no value and yet he takes a cut of the transaction. The same goes for real estate agents and car salesmen. When I went to buy my Rabbit, I didn’t need the sales associate to sell me the car. If I could, I would have happily ordered it directly from Volkswagen. At the price they charge to dealerships, of course.

Booking my trip should have gone something like this: I go to some site that presents me with one input field (think original Google) and I type in “nonstop from Los Angeles, California to Beijing, China from December 13th to January 3rd.” Just like that. I shouldn’t have to type in airport codes and fumble around with some DHTML calendar control to enter dates. Let me type it in plain English, you do the parsing. I know you can, so don’t tell me you can’t.

After I type that and hit search, show me a page with the cheapest flights that match my exact criteria. I don’t know why sites provide the option of sorting the price from high to low. When are you ever looking for the most expensive of anything? Show me the cheapest flights, but let me sort by flight time as well. Somewhere near that list, show me the cheapest flights loosely matching my criteria, such as flights a few days before or after December 13th and January 3rd and airports near Los Angeles and Beijing. Naturally, all the prices displayed should already include taxes and any other fees that can be calculated ahead of time. Finally, let me buy the ticket online and issue me an e-ticket (China Eastern only issues paper tickets, that’s so 1998).

What I just described is going to happen. The travel agents will fight back, just like the real estate agents did. No one likes losing their job to a computer. The airlines will resist, any industry deeply entrenched in old ways is going to be reluctant to change, but it’s going to happen.