Driving Air Travel Data Innovation: REST APIs

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Recent advances in airport technology have led to the generation of data that can be analyzed and used in exciting new ways. REST API flight data allows innovators and developers to retrieve detailed information about airports and about departing and arriving flights; this air travel data can then be used to improve the customer experience for airport travelers.


In recent years, the REST architectural style has become the most popular choice for public API development due to its ease of use and its ability to take advantage of existing protocols. REST APIs can be used without having to install additional software or libraries and can be accessed through web browsers. Additionally, REST can return popular formats, such as XML or JSON, without being constrained by other formats. This gives REST a distinct advantage over other languages, like SOAP. Simple commands, like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE, allow developers to easily interact with API endpoints in order to obtain the data they need quickly and efficiently. This is ideal for flight data, which can change quickly and therefore must be accessed in a timely manner. Easy access to this data allows developers to deliver up-to-date travel information to customers via a wide spectrum of applications.

Amsterdam Schiphol Launches First Airport API

Schiphol Amsterdam Airport (AMS), one of Europe’s largest airports in terms of the number of passengers and cargo volume, is the first major hub to launch a full-scale airport API. Schiphol’s Flight API allows developers to integrate airport data with third-party applications and, in turn, provide useful data on the 90+ airlines that operate there. The API conforms to the Airport Council International’s ACRIS data standards, which are designed to “help airports and airlines in real time” while helping “drive Collaborative Decision Making (CDM).”

Schiphol’s Developer Portal provides a central repository for developers to review available APIs and flight information as well as specific documentation on their Flight API. Developers can also learn more about using the API for the purpose of “requesting information to help actual passengers.” The portal provides specific REST operations and requests that can be used to retrieve real-time information on flights, flight statuses, destinations, aircrafts, and airlines. Sample GET requests are included for ease of use. Developers can request basic flight-related data by using the following commands:

GET /flights/{id} — retrieves flights with that ID GET /flights/{id}/codeshares/{flightName} — retrieves a codeshare from a flight GET /flights — retrieves flights for a specific date

Similar GET requests can be used to access information on destinations, aircraft, and airlines. Their portal also provides a list of flight statuses that developers can use to more easily determine the statuses of arriving and departing flights.

Other Airport and Travel APIs

Other airlines and air travel organizations are making use of similar REST-based approaches to improving access to data. These organizations maintain publicly available API documentation and specific information on data retrieval options.

One of these companies is Lufthansa Airlines. Lufthansa offers a full Developer Network, which contains information for developers about using their open API. Their site includes details on using REST requests to retrieve basic flight information and details on airports, cities, and aircraft. In addition to these options, Lufthansa also allows developers to retrieve data on seat maps, cargo shipment tracking, and fare offerings. These data options differ somewhat from Schiphol. This is mainly due to the fact that Lufthansa only offers information about their own flights and the airports they fly in and out of, whereas Schiphol has to manage a much larger amount of data for all of the flights and airlines that use their airport. Lufthansa’s additional data options show how individual airlines can dive deeper and continue to take advantage of an API-based approach to improving the customer experience.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also begun utilizing REST API as a way to deliver flight information to developers. The FAA’s website offers some initial information on the basics of REST usage, usable response formats, and HTTP Response Codes and Errors. One innovative step the FAA has taken is linking directly to their SwaggerHub pages, which allow developers to access and review relevant GET requests and models for various data types, such as closures, ground delays, airport statuses, delays, and flight statuses.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport’s groundbreaking work on a full airport API has inspired widespread adoption of REST API usage as a way to provide better customer experiences. Developers now have more options for requesting and delivering data due to the adaptability and extensive reach of REST. Schiphol’s release of the Flight API also sets a precedent for usability and ease of access — one other airports will hopefully try to emulate as they become more focused on improving access to critical travel data.