Perhaps it was always going to end in tears. Well, tears being a Cease and Desist letter from US airline giant SouthwestÂ after it took exception to an engineer creating what some might be consider a handy service.
Months ago, Stanford graduate Nikil Viswanathan built CheckInToMyFlight, a simple tool which automatically checked him in to his flights on Southwest.
“I was visiting my sister at Wharton for her birthday and my mom decided that it was time for me to start checking in to my own flights.
“I landed and got to her dorm and decided that in the hour or so before we went out to a party, I could write a program to automatically check myself in to my Southwest flights so I wouldn’t forget. “
After half-creating the tool with some “basic script”,Â Viswanathan let the project languish for a while before finally completing it a few weeks ago.
He turned it on, didn’t charge a fee, started using it for himself.Â It was, in his words, “a fun little tool for myself”.
It essentially managed to get what are known as “A” class seats, always the first to board flights as part of Southwest’s open-seating strategy.
Viswanathan’s tool managed to get his reservation into “A” every time.
Being a developer, however, he obviously had to tell folk about what he’d managed to create, so he posted a small item about it on HackerNews.
Within a few days over 5,000 people had visited the site.
At this point Southwest woke up to what was happening and got in touch withÂ Viswanathan.
Just at the point the site had managed to over 10,000 visit (and presumably use) the site,Â Viswanathan agreed to take the site down after the Cease and Desist notice was issued.
Humbly, he says:
“Overall, I was really happy that I was able to make something useful that helped a lot of people remember to check into their flight! I was was pretty blown away to see that approximately 10,000 people were on the site, especially when I thought that NO ONE else cared about it.”
The reality is that Southwest (like other airlines) frowns upon third parties – without some kind of agreement – playing around with its website, especially when they compete with the carrier’s EarlyBird service for checking passengers in.
Viswanathan will live to fight another day (by way of a nice influx of the job offers, no doubt).
Southwest, if nothing else, showed how quickly it likes to flex its legal muscles – but also rather inadvertently exposed to thousands of people how it has a handy EarlyBird service that they can use when they fly with the carrier.
Everyone wins. Kind of.
NB: Hat-tip – @steve_e.