Google chairman Eric Schmidt has claimed the company is still "working on it", in a wide-ranging speech about in search in general and its flight product.
In a keynote address in Germany this week, to an audience at music hardware and software manufacturer, Native Instruments, Schmidt admitted any deeper functionality around searching for flights and travel products is "kind of complicated".
Using an example of "show me flights under €300 for places where it’s hot in December and I can snorkel", Google's former-CEO-turned-chairman said:
"Google needs to know about flights under €300; hot destinations in winter; and what places are near the water, with cool fish to see. That’s basically three separate searches that have to be cross-referenced to get to the right answer."
He then conceded:
"Sadly, we can’t solve that for you today. "
Schmidt did not outline how the company might eventually tackle the problem, but it's probably reasonably safe to say (and hope) that its $700 million takeover of ITA Software in July 2014 wasn't just to produce a flight metasearch engine.
Although, you never know.
Discussing Google's former involvement in flight search, Schmidt said:
"We showed a bunch of links to other sites, where users then had to enter their query over again. And we noticed lots of repeat searches, a sure sign of user frustration. People wanted direct answers, with fewer clicks.
"So we created Flight Search -- and now you can quickly compare prices and times from different airlines right from the results page."
Google Flight Search was eventually launched in September 2011, four months after US regulators approved the ITA Software deal.
But perhaps Google's attention is still being diverted away from the innovation needed to achieve Schmidt's dream of better travel search, due to the ongoing worries about the company's overall position in the travel distribution and marketing food chain.
Schmidt used his speech in Germany to criticise those companies which have consistently argued that Google, with its powerful presence on the web and at the front of millions of travel searches each year, should not be involved at all - or modify its role.
"This issue of providing direct answers to questions is at the heart of complaints being made about Google to the European Commission.
"Companies like Expedia, Yelp, and TripAdvisor argue that it deprives their websites of valuable traffic and disadvantages their businesses. They’d rather go back to 10 blue links."
He went on to argue that the sites in question, in fact, now get more traffic from Google ("it has incr
eased significantly"), since it started Google Flight Search.
"That said, the amount of traffic going to other services should not be the main yardstick of success for Google because the goal of a search engine is to deliver relevant results to users as quickly as possible.
"Put simply, we created search for users, not websites. And that’s the motivation behind all our improvements over the last decade."
And in a thinly veiled poke in the eye of the FairSearch anti-Google brigade which convened in the autumn of 2010 in the wake of the ITA acquisition, Schmidt highlight that many of its members still account for a huge percentage of the online travel market in the US.
"It’s ironic as many of these companies complained to the US Justice Department four years ago that Google’s Flight Search feature would undermine competition -- a claim that’s clearly not borne out by the facts.
"Instead, Google Flight Search has become a handy aid to flyers, without displacing the established travel players."