Hope for better travel as El Al extends hand to start-ups

The airline’s Cockpit program is the first airline-run accelerator for entrepreneurs who are developing solutions for the travel industry

An El Al plane taxis into Ben Gurion International Airport (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
An El Al plane taxis into Ben Gurion International Airport (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Flying is getting rougher all the time, and traveler complaints about everything – from the shrinking size of seats to the “cattle car” treatment – are prompting entrepreneurs to seek out ways to improve the experience using technology.

To help advance that effort, El Al has established its own accelerator – called Cockpit – to, according to the company, “expose El Al to new technologies that it can join with as strategic partners, investing resources and knowledge in technology development.

“El Al is one of the first airlines in the world to initiate a wide-ranging program to support start-ups,” the company said.

Like other accelerators, Cockpit plans to offer space and resources to start-ups to enable them to develop apps, with an emphasis on making air travel easier for passengers and enabling airlines to make more money. El Al has pledged to allow itself to be a “test site” for apps and software, utilizing the products that are created by start-ups in the accelerator so entrepreneurs can see what works and what needs improvement.

The accelerator officially kicked off on Tuesday at ThinkNext, a start-up event sponsored by Microsoft Israel, but El Al announced that it has already enrolled its first two start-ups: Shopnfly, which allows travelers to browse and pre-purchase items that can be picked up at a duty-free shop, delivered inflight or to a destination hotel, and BidFlyer, which provides an online space for airlines to sell off their hard-to-sell seats on flights via a bidding process, enabling airlines to fill seats that would otherwise have remained empty.

There is, of course, no shortage of travel apps in the world, and some of the most important ones are made in Israel — the biggest probably being WorldMate, a mobile travel app for planning, booking, and managing trips used by 10 million people around the world.

But Cockpit is the first accelerator to focus specifically on the travel industry, said David Maimon, El Al CEO. “Innovation and entrepreneurship are important leaders for, and the tremendous momentum of high-tech in the areas of aviation and tourism provides us with an opportunity to harness our organization for innovation, helping young companies to forge ahead in the field we understand well, and helping them take off in the world market. It’s only natural that the airline of the Start-Up Nation will help start-ups in Israel.”

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