Southwest, United, and American Airlines have a new enemy -- the internet's ugliest site

Can this troublingly-named, pulchritudinously-vacant site improve things at America's top airlines?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Airplane wing in flight
Getty Images

I'm constantly being told that data is all-important. I'm not quite convinced. 

Sometimes, the evidence of my own eyes and life experience -- subjective data, you might call it -- will always triumph over a spreadsheet, a graph, or a trumpeting startup founder.

I wonder, then, what you might think of a site for sore eyes that desperately wants to make your life more beautiful.

When I first saw DataScalp -- I know, the name doesn't resonate with prettiness -- I wondered whether the creator's own eyes and life experience hadn't been quite what they could have been.

That name may inspire some to muse: "Dear Lord, why?" And the site, well, it looks like a forgotten concoction from 1997's less creative period.

Yet DataScalp's mission is to make your flying experience better thanks to, oh yes, data. And not data provided by DataScalp, but by miserable people like you who have endured terrible flying experiences.

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What the site provides is a running score of airline cancellations, baggage accuracy, on-time performance, and cancellation time to refund.

But I ask you, can't you already find all this around the web? Doesn't this information already exist? And, perhaps, most importantly, given that Americans have so few actual choices when they fly, will this data influence any human behavior?

I asked DataScalp's creator, Dwight Harris Jr., about some of my misgivings.

He told me: "This content relies upon inferential statistics to mimic the information that airlines actually have, but withhold. DataScalp content is based upon commodity services. It's not based upon taste, like Yelp, which is subjective and does not allow ranking."

He also offered an intriguing thought: "Consumers gravitating towards good performers leaves inventory abundance for airlines, which pushes prices down. Therefore consumers via DataScalp literally impact prices unlike any other platform."

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I wonder if that'll be the case.

And what of the name? Isn't it a little contentious?

Not to Wright Jr.: "You scalp tickets, so DataScalp removes the ambiguity around information. Coming up with any company name and website that has the word data is extraordinarily difficult. DataScalp as a name is a godsend."

Who am I to argue when God is invoked?

But the airlines have now got their act together, haven't they? At least that's what the airlines say. Why, the Thanksgiving period seemed relatively peaceful. Even Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg thought so.

Ah, but Harris Jr., insists things will get worse. He told me: "The only reason Thanksgiving travel was relatively easy was due to climate change, providing a relatively warm November.  But airlines haven't changed anything.  So, when the weather gets colder, it's going to exacerbate problems that have always been there."

Yes, but it's always been this way, hasn't it? Especially on the east coast. Nothing can change the shifting tides of storms.

Harris Jr. doesn't agree. He said: "Airlines aren't going to change until we get reliable customer feedback that can't be siloed or hidden in one of those customer feedback forms. While DataScalp isn't pretty, it's ready to fix an ugly problem: Airline travel."

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I confess to finding it hard to see how the collected thoughts of angry American flyers can make any difference at all. It never has. Airlines know that you can complain all you like, but when four airlines own more than 80% of the seats, you have to take what you can get and be grateful you got to your destination.

Perhaps this winter will be DataScalp's takeoff. Hark at Harris Jr.'s portentous tones: "Winter is coming for the airline industry. I expect December travel to be some of the worst yet."

I suppose you have nothing to lose by offering your views to this new Reddit of the Air. And Wright Jr. insists his site will change human behavior. (Yes, really.)

"I've worked on Wall Street for a decade," he told me. "I've successfully changed corporate behavior at the highest levels. This approach is proven to work."

But of course. Corporations are people, too, right?

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