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Mason student-designed Fleet app takes flight, eases travel woes

December 15, 2015   /   by Jamie Rogers

An example of the information provided by the Fleet app. Photo from App Store.

An award-winning idea by George Mason University students designed to take the hassle and headache out of flying was released in its second version this month, just in time for the holiday travel season.

Fleet, an air travel assistance app, is available in the Apple app store and has a “follow” feature. Download it here.

So if a college student is flying home for the holidays, parents can track the journey, said Robert Youmans, a user experience chief at Google, who helped in the development of Fleet when he was a George Mason professor.

“You'll know in real time if their flight is delayed or canceled [and] when they will land,” he said.

It takes some of the guess work out of flying and keeps family from circling the airport, waiting for a plane to land, Youmans added.

Upcoming versions of Fleet should allow users to electronically send “gifts” to the travelers they are following, Youmans added.

“They may see your flight is delayed and they can send you a coffee or a drink,” he said. “You feel connected to a loved one.”

In 2013, the Mason team, with Youmans as their faculty adviser, entered the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Annual Design Competition for universities and walked away with a first-place prize in the category of Innovation Application of FAA Data.

Fleet combines crowd-sourced data, along with information from the FAA, airlines and airports, into a one-stop shop. This feature works much like the app Waze, which provides motorists with traffic information. The crowdsourcing component means the app gets better as more people use it and report information in real time, Youmans said.

Flying has changed since the early days of commercial aviation, when it was an exciting event that people dressed up for.

“It’s hectic, it’s not very pleasant,” Youmans said. We thought, ‘What are the reasons for that?’”

Not knowing, the team concluded—that is, not knowing how crowded the airport is before you arrive or how long it’ll take to get through baggage check and security.

The Fleet app provides information on those things as well as flight duration and arrival time—something that gets a little tricky when crossing time zones, Youmans said.

An in-app virtual assistant called Felicity Fleet makes flying fun by providing trivia facts about the airline and the travel perks offered. The app uses the traveler’s geographical location to find and make suggestions about shops and restaurants available in their airport terminal.

The team is also working on providing information about the location and type of bathrooms in airport terminals, said Mason psychology doctoral student Daniel Gartenberg, who was on the award-winning Fleet app team.

“We haven’t flushed that idea out yet; no pun intended,” Youmans said.

Gartenberg, Fleet’s chief technical officer, designed it for the Apple app store. It took more than two years to build the app and get it ready for Apple’s “grueling” approval process, Gartenberg said. The next step is to make Fleet available for the Android platform.

“It’s pretty much a horse of a different color; it’s a different language, like Spanish to Italian,” Gartenberg said.