Metro, Business

Freebird Startup Simplifies Air Travel and Empowers Customers

When Ethan Bernstein, founder of Freebird, walked through the doors of Denver International Airport on Presidents’ Day last year, he had no idea that inspiration for the next big travel technology company was about to strike.   

Unbeknown to Bernstein that morning, he would drop out of Harvard Business School within the next three months and dive headfirst into his brainchild. Freebird, located in Cambridge, Mass., was conceived on that Presidents’ Day as he saw the consequences of cancelled flights firsthand.

During the summer that followed, the app, one that aimed both to simplify the air travel re-booking process and empower travelers, emerged seamlessly from his imagination.

“Our product circumvents that entire re-booking process, puts the power back in the traveler’s hands, gives them the information they need when they need it and the tools to get through the rebooking process in less than thirty seconds with just three taps of your phone,” he said.

Freebird does more than display options quickly and neatly upon the event of your flight being canceledit also serves as an insurance policy for your flight. For just $19 one-way or $34 round trip, Freebird will pay for whatever option you chose, regardless of the price.

As Bernstein and many of his vacation companions boarded their two different airlines both bound for Logan Airport that Monday around noon, however, this whole idea was far from the people’s minds. But as the flight Bernstein was on soared into the sky en route for Boston, the other flight was canceled due to maintenance, its intended passengers sent to stand in endless lines, wait on hold with the call centers for hours, and frantically search for alternative flights on their phones.

Although Bernstein was not one of those stranded in Denver that day, the story inspired him. After four years as a senior manager of corporate development at the largest travel company in the world, Expedia M&A, he had developed a unique understanding of the travel technology landscape, and in this ordeal, he saw a problem to be solved. He saw an opportunity for a service. This service was Freebird.

Only a few months after that day, Bernstein was building his company right down the street from Harvard Business School. This location has positioned it to grow into a future champion of its industry. “Boston is a travel technology hub,” Bernstein said.

This strategic move puts Freebird among the many Boston-based travel technology companies, like Trip Adviser, Kayak, Google Travel, Hopper and Lola. All of these companies, by nature of being in close proximity to each other, formed a vast network of industry experts and resources. In this way, the city is a crucial component to Freebird’s success, Bernstein said.

“More than any other place in the world, this is where travel technology gets built,” Bernstein said.

Even in this “travel technology hub,” Freebird has distinguished itself from the rest of its neighbors. Its focus on empowering the customer to make his or her own decisions by equipping him or her with the tools to manage his or her own situation is a prime example of this uniqueness. In addition, the technology behind the product is something not found in any other company.

In early November, the fruits of Bernstein’s labor were unveiled. With $3.5 million in total funding from three separate venture capital firms, Freebird is set to continue its rapid progress. As its winter promotional fixed-pricing model comes to a close, Freebird further evolves, this time by implementing a revolutionary dynamic pricing model that will price Freebird relative to the flight of the customer. As Freebird doubles its staff and delves into uncharted data science, it promises much more to come.

“It is a long road when you have such an early stage company, but there is a roadmap in place to help us grow in a way that is focused on the long term,” Bernstein said.

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee/Heights Staff

January 20, 2016