Why I built FlightList & solved my own problem

Written by Hans Desjarlais updated on Oct 16, 2022 · 6 min read

I was sitting in the Airbnb I rented in the Netherlands searching for a one-way flight to Ukraine to go visit a good friend of mine.

I had two tabs open on my laptop; one with Skyscanner and the other with Google Flights. I wasn’t set on a specific departure date, but I wanted to leave in the next 7 days.

I was enjoying my time in the Netherlands and I wasn’t in a hurry to leave just yet.

I kept switching dates and between the two sites to find the best deal.

Then it dawned on me, “why can’t I select a range of dates for departure, for example — between tomorrow and 7 days from now”?

That would really make things easier.

Airlines always charge a fee for changing your return date as well as the difference in price of the return flight. Taking that into consideration I don’t find buying 2 one-way tickets to be much more expensive than booking 1 return ticket, especially if I don’t know when I’ll be returning.

Since I’m flexible on when I can fly, and always looking for the best deals, I find sites like Skyscanner and Google Flights don’t offer me the best method for searching a wide range of dates.

They require you to enter a specific date and then select a calendar to view the cheapest price for each day of the month. If you then select a different date from the calendar, you can view flights for that new date. But what if I want to filter flights across a date range? It’s just clunky and annoying.

“The data clearly indicates a shift to one-way ticketing. The percentage of one-way tickets (vs. roundtrip) has grown by almost 45 percent from 29 percent in 2014 to 42 percent so far in 2017.”

After my travels in Europe I returned to Canada in December for the Christmas holidays and focused on building new products for my core business; Themely, a small WordPress theme development company.

I don’t remember how but sometime in late December I came across an interesting online community for tech-entrepreneurs called Indie Hackers. I found the community very helpful and I read many inspiring stories of tech-entrepreneurs building new startups.

Inspired & intrigued, the idea to build FlightList began to take shape. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but I knew more or less, how I wanted it to work.

I thought that if I built something for myself, a site I could use for my own travels, there must be other travelers who have the same frustration.

But I had one problem; I didn’t know how to code JavaScript. I’ve been a web developer for more than 8 years but I always hired freelancers to help me with projects which required Javascript. Or I would use pre-built frameworks which I could easily plug in.

This was different, I would need to build something completely custom.

So, in early January 2018 I decided I would dedicate the next 30 days to learning Javascript and building a very basic, minimalist flight booking site tailored to my specific travel style. I had some free time and I could afford to put aside a month from my main business to focus on this side-project.

I didn’t want it to be fancy, just some simple search inputs which returned a list of flights with a minimal interface, on one page. No ads, no secondary pages, just bare-bones flight data.

I started by building the user interface first, design it the way I like and have a non-functional prototype (which is basically how FlightList looks like now, I haven’t changed it much since then). This took me about 1 week.

Then I started looking for an API I could pull the flight data from.

Google had just announced they would shut down their Qpx Express API in April so that was out of the question.

Skyscanner.com has a closed API and you need to apply in order to get access and I never heard anything back from them.

So, I settled on Kiwi.com’s open Flight Search API, which is quite well documented.

It took me 2 weeks of intense, 10–14 hour days. I thought of nothing else. I would sometimes wake up at 5:00 am when an idea struck me on how to tackle the next feature.

I searched Google hundreds of times and scoured sites like Stack Overflow and several developer blogs for bits of code I could use and to ask questions from developers.

I was hooked and intrigued by this project.

I did get a bit of help at the very beginning from a freelance developer I’ve worked with over the years who got me started in the right direction, but in the end I re-wrote a lot of his code and merged it with mine and eventually ended up with a working prototype.

“In summary, the long-held belief that it is better to purchase round-trip tickets whenever possible to get the best fares, is simply no longer true,” the study said.

Once I had a working prototype or a minimum viable product, as it’s often called, I launched FlightList on Product Hunt on February 13th, 2018.

Product Hunt is an interesting platform for launching tech businesses which allows you to reach a large audience and receive feedback from users. The site lets users share and discover new products where users submit products which are listed in a linear format by day.

The site includes a comments system and a voting system similar to Hacker News or Reddit. The products with the most votes rise to the top of each day’s list.

So I read up on how to launch on their platform as I had never done so before and this was all new to me. I read their how-to guide and followed it exactly.

I wasn’t interested in cheating or “gaming” their system as this would only skew my results. I wanted to know what users thought of FlightList, whether it was useful and had potential or if it was a complete waste of time.

I had to test my idea against the real world (reality).

I got up very early on February 13th and launched FlightList.

Throughout the day I received 27 upvotes and a handful of positive comments from users. Nothing to be excited about.

I went to bed that night feeling disappointed but still proud of what I had built. At least I could use it for my own travels.

Then at 4:00am on the 14th I was woken up by a Twitter push notification on my phone.

It read “Congratulations for being in 1st place!” from @vinrob who had launched his startup, ManyPixels.co on the same day and was in 2nd place.

A little puzzled, I got up, made some coffee, turned on my laptop and logged into Product Hunt.

There it was, #1 position with several hundred upvotes and a bunch of positive comments from users and it was only 4:30am.

I guess I didn’t really understand how Product Hunt works after all.

That was an exciting day — I responded to all comments and suggestions from users and finished the day with close to 800 upvotes. More than any other flight booking site submitted to Product Hunt except for one.

As of December 13th, 2018, FlightList is in the top 10 most upvoted products in the travel category on Product Hunt with 1276 upvotes.

It has received over 43,000 unique visitors and travelers have booked 125 flights so far. All without any paid advertising or marketing, just free organic traffic.

For the past 5 months I have been waiting and watching to see what happens with the traffic. Will it crash, stabilize and maintain or increase steadily?

It must succeed or fail on it’s own merit. Why? Because I cannot possibly compete with major flight booking sites like Skyscanner, Google Flights, Kayak, Momondo, etc as they have huge marketing budgets and engineering teams.

If the traffic doesn’t crash and travelers use it to book flights, then it means it has potential.

So far traffic has stabilized and maintained. It hasn’t crashed. 125 flights have been booked and I’ve received many positive comments from users who find it extremely useful and also requested certain features.

It's also been shared in several travel newsletters and on the Tweakers Podcast in the Netherlands.

So, maybe I am onto to something... we'll see.

But at the very least I've made booking one-way flights for myself quicker, easier and cheaper. So there's that.