How can I access to the world's airline and rail schedules?
January 18, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way I get access to the world's airline and rail schedules?

I'd like to build a really good user interface to help self-serve travelers plan their own itineraries by automatically giving them the cheapest/fastest option including flights and rail. Integrating a simple way to change their plans the same way Google Maps lets you drag the recommended directions for a detour.

Of course the big issue is getting this data. Any recommended approaches?
posted by jevy to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This will be very, very difficult without cooperation from the companies you're trying to sell for. Many companies, for example the swedish rail company SJ, have shifting fares based upon how long away the day of travel is, what sort of trains the connections run on, etc. You could probably get the itineraries without "too much" trouble, but the fares would be another story. Doing this world-wide is, uh, difficult and expensive.
posted by beerbajay at 12:44 PM on January 18, 2010

I once got screwed by EasyJet selling a ticket for a flight they had already canceled. So you might have difficulties if you want live data.

Airlines routinely monkey with their fairs and related fees so that sites like cannot accurately report their prices. So reporting the cheapest options sounds kinda unrealistic.

It's often quite tricky to even obtain rail prices from outside a country, although reports foreign train prices much more accurately than most sites.

A less ambitious option might be merely accurately reporting the connection times between airports, train stations, and nearby cities around the world. I've often used Geneva airport when traveling to Lyon for example, as Lyon flights are exceedingly overpriced and Geneva offers good reliable rail connections.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:57 PM on January 18, 2010

The Man in Seat 61 is a good place to go for train information... but, he also sells tickets so would be direct competition.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:09 PM on January 18, 2010

In the air travel sector, you are up against the heavyweights like Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, etc on the front end, and Star Alliance, Sky Team and Oneworld on the back end.

In the rail sector, you are up against the EuroRail flat-rate pass for the international market, and the national rail websites for the domestic markets (assumption: Europe is the only rail market worth bothering with).

If you want to build a real system with useful data and not just some proof-of-concept, you need a shitload of capital to build integrations with the IT systems of the big guys and to pay the association fees. It's not like there's an open database just waiting for you to plug into it. And be prepared to spend several years developing mindshare in your target market.

Once in a while, a little guy comes along and develops something like craigslist, IMDB or Facebook and blows the big fish out of the water. I honestly hope that happens to you, but I think you are in over your head.
posted by randomstriker at 1:34 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Fair enough. I guess fares are less important. It would be more of a way to help people tackle the "traveling salesman" problem (e.g. I want to visit Zurich, Venice and Nice, what's most efficient? Is it realistic? What about tradeoffs?). So maybe it would have the Eurorail option, cheap flights option etc etc.

I guess my question was more is there an international body who could be contacted to give this information up.
posted by jevy at 5:22 PM on January 18, 2010

I reiterate that air-rail connection times are not well reported by anyone currently in the market. A wiki-like project that provided this information might be extremely useful. I'm unsure if the easiest route might be within the existing wikitravel site or an independent site more data driven site.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:51 PM on January 18, 2010

I guess my question was more is there an international body who could be contacted to give this information up.

Not one single body, no. However most major air carriers and all rail lines publish their schedules. They would deliberately not provide you the data in a format that can be easily processed, unless you pony up the big bucks. You could, however, hire some data-entry guys in Eastern Europe or India to re-key everything for you quite cheaply.
posted by randomstriker at 6:49 PM on January 18, 2010

Best answer: Including rail data could be tricky. In the UK, data is released by the inidividual operators, as well as National Rail. But they don't like other people reusing this data: they forced developers to withdraw an older, free, iPhone app as it was competing with their new, non-free app. And, AFAIK, the data is released in two forms: PDF timetables (a nightmare to parse) and their website (TOS prevents screen-scraping).

Getting data on flights is probably easier: there are companies that sell travel-agents subscriptions to live data feeds about international flight schedules.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 10:27 AM on January 19, 2010

Response by poster: Great help gang. Thanks! Something to think about.
posted by jevy at 6:28 PM on January 21, 2010

Interestingly, Google has recently acquired ITA, the company which provided flight pricing and information to, amongst others, Kayak.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 1:52 PM on July 15, 2010

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