Google gaffe: flights to World Trade Centre 'unavailable'

Google's new flight-search tool has hit turbulence on its first day with an embarrassing blooper that has New York's World Trade Centre listed in the site's search suggestions.

Typing in "New York" as the destination, Google auto-suggests several locations in the city, including John F. Kennedy International Airport and La Guardia Airport.

The site also lists the city's World Trade Centre as an airport location, with a note saying the destination is "unavailable".

The World Trade Centre towers were destroyed by airliners in terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Ceremonies marking the 10 year anniversary of the attacks were held over the weekend.

Reader 'Richard' discovered the gaffe after reading an earlier version of this story today and posted a comment about it below.

A spokeswoman for Google said Flight Search used codes provided by the International Air Transport Association and the International Civil Aviation Organisation to list airports and heliports. The codes continued to exist even after ports were decommissioned, she said, but Google had not realised the inactive codes were included in the list before the new feature went live.

"Our intention with Flight Search is to provide information only about active airports. We are removing the WTC code now that we're aware of it and we will look for other airports that need to come out as well," she said.

In May this year United Airlines was criticised for advertising at the site of the World Trade Center with a tagline "you're going to love where we land". A United Airlines plane was used in the attack, striking the South Tower.

The same month, sensitivity over the events loomed again when United Airlines accidentally reinstated the flight numbers of the planes used in the September 11 attacks to its booking system. Flight numbers are traditionally retired when aircraft are lost.

Google launched its Flight Search product yesterday. It is the first travel product from Google since its $US700 million acquisition of ITA Software this year.

"Since then, our engineering teams have been working closely together to build new travel tools that provide faster, more flexible, and more useful results to online travel searches," Google said in a blog post.

A "Flights" link will appear on the left-hand side of the page when a Google search user types in a query for flight information. Flight Search can also be directly accessed through

For the moment, Flight Search only offers flights for a limited number of US cities and shows results for round-trip economy-class flights only.

Google said it would add more cities and options later.

Flight Search shows flight options for a selected destination organised by departure time and date, airport, price or airline.

Google, which required the approval of the US Justice Department for the ITA purchase, said the selection of flight results "is not influenced by any paid relationships".

"Airlines control how their flights are marketed so, as with other flight search providers, our booking links point to airline websites only," Google said.

Several online travel sites, including Expedia, Kayak and Travelocity, had sought to block the Google-ITA deal, claiming it would give Google too much control over the lucrative online travel market and lead to higher prices.

The Justice Department's anti-trust division approved the acquisition of ITA by Google in April but imposed conditions on the deal, including requiring Google to continue to license ITA's travel software to other companies.

ITA, a 500-person firm founded in 1996 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientists, specialises in organising airline data, including flight times, availability and prices.

ITA flight data software is used by many US airlines and a number of leading online travel sites, including Expedia's Hotwire and TripAdvisor, Kayak, Orbitz and Microsoft's Bing search engine.

In July, Google launched Hotel Finder, which it described as an "experimental search tool" designed to help users locate and book hotels.

Hotel Finder, which is restricted to the United States for now, lets a user refine their choice by geographic area using Google Maps and select hotels using various criteria including price, the number of stars and user ratings.

with AFP

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