The fundamentals of airfare search have remained relatively stable over time. There’s a fare-led search or a schedule-led search. As in, customers start by either searching for the lowest fare or by scheduled flights. That’s the entry point for any given search.

But what if travelers could search by seat availability instead? That’s the question asked and answered by the team behind the Seat-Led Shopping prototype.

Adding a new dimension to air search

Seat selection often happens later in the search process for any given trip. Yet many travelers see seat availability as a top factor in deciding to take one flight or another. Some may have status that gives them access to better seats, while others prefer exit rows. For families, this is an even larger issue as families generally prefer to sit together.

Seat availability is a top factor in deciding on a flight itinerary. Seat-led Shopping solves that. 


As the last step of the booking process, seat selection can force travelers to start over again. If the desired seats are not available, then it’s back to the search results. This can be incredibly frustrating for travelers. And frustrated travelers make for more challenging customers. Frustration causes fall-off, which affects the bottom line.

How seat-led shopping works

The prototype integrates the shopping query with a seat map cache. This cache is essential, as Seat-led Shopping is possible only with the seat availability information for all flights. Connecting to airlines for seat map during the shopping process is too slow for search. A seat map cache ensures accurate seat availability while also delivering the speed required for a search.

The traveler specifies the seat types, such as aisle/window/center/exit row, and then the prototype helps the traveler find seats according to the query.

The team lead behind Seat-Led Shopping is Peng Xie, who explains more about how it might be used in travel today:

It could be used by both travel agents or OTAs. For example, only suggesting itineraries with nearby seats available when the customer is traveling with family. Frequent travelers may have their seating preferences (such as window seat in the front) stored as part of their profile in Sabre Red Workspace. Then agents can easily recommend itineraries with preferred seats.

Adding an extra dimension to any search is complex – especially as search volumes continue to increase at double-digit rates. Having inaccurate information not only creates a poor search experience but also reduces traveler’s trust in the product. Seat-led Shopping gives travelers more choice while also ensuring continuous and accurate search for airlines.

There are over 25 million results for this search related to families sitting together. Clearly, there is a traveler problem to be solved here.

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