In mid July I wrote a longer piece on the topic of airline website screen scraping, but the topic refuses to go away. Ryanair has won a court case against Wegolo over screen scraping (and reselling fares, so not just screenscraping), and Southwest has initiated legal proceedings against Checkinsooner.com over issues related to screen scraping.
Checkinsooner reminds me of the tools that used to be available (and maybe still are) for eBay to automatically increase your bid by one cent, or ensure your bid was placed seconds before closing time, thereby increasing your chance of securing the auction item.
I can see why Southwest would be fighting this, as in a world where every airline wants to launch their own branded mobile app, the truth is that most if not all of the airline branded apps out there today offer less functionality than the leading airline agnostic apps. Check-in really is one feature that every mobile app user will want, but which may force users to take the airline branded app if there is no other choice. The stakes are very high in this game, but as time goes on, I am becoming less enthusiastic about airline controlled apps with closed walls – maybe the Virgin Blue deal with Worldmate is closer to the model airlines need to be taking?
This is a much more complex topic than I can do justice to here, as there are strong pros and cons for either side. I’m sure it is a conversation I will continue to have with the airlines executives that I meet; in the end it comes down to what are they really trying to achieve with their mobile strategy – a question that is surprisingly difficult for many people within airlines to actually answer convincingly today.