Google maps adds Uber and more, airline passenger compensation, baggage fee income


This weekend we look at improvements to Google Maps, we learn about a new startup that hopes to get passengers their just compensation from airlines and we discover how much airlines are making from their baggage fees.

The more I use Google Maps, the more useful it gets

I love looking up a store and getting the operating times clearly stated, then clicking through to maps for directions. I love the road conditions and traffic conditions that can be seen when traveling with Google Maps. I have even learned to follow Google’s directions, even when I know there is a better way, because I can be assured that the “better way” is not better at the moment. Only last month, I defied my Google directions and ended up at a complete standstill for 20 minutes at midnight driving north on I-93 from Boston to New Hampshire.

Now there are more goodies coming to Google maps, like Uber hailing, train schedules and restaurant opening hours. My life is getting easier.

Google‘s continued creep into travel services continues with its Map product for Android and iPhone/iPad gaining Uber integration.

The addition of the on-demand taxi hailing service comes as part of a wider overhaul of the maps product which includes a number of other new features.

When users now compare transport options, Uber transport option will be listed if the existing app is installed on mobile. If a user clicks on the Uber transport option in maps app, Uber’s service will load to complete the taxi request.

This option is currently available only in “some cities.”

Other new features in the Google Map app include:
– Ability to see which lane to stay in or move to while driving.
Users can save maps using the “Save map to use offline” button for accessing it offline.
– Users can browse restaurants, bars and hotels with a new set of filters – by opening hours, rating, price, and more.
– While searching for train transport option, now users will be able to choose the time and day they want to leave. Also, option to see “last train home” is also available.

Just compensation for airline errors

A new startup, AirHelp, is focusing on getting travelers their just compensation from airlines for violations of rules punishable by fines. Most passengers have no idea that they are leaving money on the table when they agree to at-the-airport settlements from airlines for problems like overbooking or lost/delayed luggage. If they know the real rules and know the real reasons they are having their problem, that makes a big difference.

Some bumped passengers settle with the airlines for a $200 discount on their next flight — they may be eligible for $1,300 in cash. Some passengers shrug their shoulders when airline personnel tell them they can’t get compensation for delayed baggage — but in some cases, they are eligible for up to $3,400 of compensation. And, when flying to Europe, other rules come into effect that protect passengers from delays and resulting missed connections.

That might sound a bit self-serving, but AirHelp is one of a growing number of startups building businesses that help fight consumer battles. Fixed, a San Francisco-based startup, will fight to get your parking ticket dismissed and charge 25 percent of the fine if you win. Another startup, 71lbs, helps consumers get FedEX and UPS refunds if their packages are late and takes a 50 percent cut of the money won. “You could say it’s a logical next step in the whole empowerment of consumers. With social media, they could harm a brand,” says Michaelsen. “Now, they’re actually able to assert their rights and not just on a brand level.”

That’s because AirHelp’s underlying technology aggregates massive amounts of flight data and checks it against national, international, and regional laws, as well as court judgments. That way, when a customer enters his flight number, date, airline, and route, the system automatically knows if he’s entitled to compensation. Airlines aren’t required to pay on delayed domestic flights, for instance, or if the delay was caused by an extreme condition, like weather or a security threat. But in nearly all other cases, they are.

Don’t just take your vouchers and swallow your pride.

Airlines are raking in billions from baggage fees

Even as airlines gear up to continue making the prices of checked baggage more difficult for passengers to uncover, they are raking in billions and billions of dollars — almost half of their recent record profits.

A new rulemaking may be issued next week that will force airlines to disclose some of these fees up front, but we know the airlines will go into full defensive position to keep misleading consumers with partial truths.

Delta heads the list of 16 carriers in the US Department of Transportation’s league, earning $833 million in charges for hold baggage. Ancillary sales like baggage, seat reservations, ticket change fees and on board sales have been a big help in restoring US airlines to profitability.

All the main carriers have charged for checked bags in some form for about the last six years. The DoT’s table shows United earning $625 million from baggage and US Airways and American Airlines more than $500 million each.