Lawsuit Won't Slow Down Stanford Grad

Coder who was theatened by Southwest Airlines will continue to code

By Stephanie Chuang
|  Thursday, Oct 25, 2012  |  Updated 7:33 AM PDT
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Shut down the website   or we ll sue. That s the message a recent Stanford grad says he got from Southwest Airlines in a cease-and-desist letter Thursday in an email. What s the issue? Southwest wants to shut down a website project that 25-year-old Nikil Viswanathan says he spent just 45-minutes creating back in January.  The site  automatically checked him into Southwest flights, so he wouldn t have the last pick of seats.

Shut down the website or we ll sue. That s the message a recent Stanford grad says he got from Southwest Airlines in a cease-and-desist letter Thursday in an email. What s the issue? Southwest wants to shut down a website project that 25-year-old Nikil Viswanathan says he spent just 45-minutes creating back in January. The site automatically checked him into Southwest flights, so he wouldn t have the last pick of seats.

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Shut down the website – or we’ll sue. That’s the message a recent Stanford grad says he got from Southwest Airlines in a cease-and-desist letter Thursday in an email. What’s the issue? Southwest wants to shut down a website project that 25-year-old Nikil Viswanathan says he spent just 45-minutes creating back in January.  The site  automatically checked him into Southwest flights, so he wouldn’t have the last pick of seats.

“We had an hour before we went to a party. I was like you know what this is going to be a recurring problem,” Viswanathan said. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could just write something automatically to check me in? So I just started writing it.”

In under an hour, he had coded a program that would take personal info and automatically fill in the Southwest check-in site 24-hours ahead of the flight – the earliest opportunity for passenger check-in.

In October he decided to post up the website on Facebook, not to attract users, but to force himself to complete the project. That’s when it took off, picked up by a popular tech news blog. Now his site www.CheckintoMyFlight.com has had more than 10,000 unique site visits this month.

“That was a Friday. Everyone was predicting, oh you’re going to get sued tomorrow, you’re going to get sued tomorrow, and the next day was actually my birthday,” Viswanathan lamented.

But it wasn’t until last Thursday when he got the email from Southwest, demanding he shut down his site. He said the company complained that his website was competing with Southwest’s “Early Bird” check-in special which, for ten-dollars, allows passengers to check-in ahead of everyone else. Viswanathan countered that his website, set up for anyone to use at no charge, did not compete because it didn’t have the ability of checking passengers in any earlier than the 24-hour mark.

In a statement to NBC Bay Area, Southwest spokesperson Katie McDonald said she couldn’t go into details because it’s a current legal matter, only saying in part, “Southwest places a very high value on Customer Service and our personal relationship with Customers. By intruding on that relationship and removing a touch point with the Customer, check-in sites take away the ability for Southwest to provide its services in accordance with its policies and legendary personal touch.”

Even though Viswanathan disagrees with Southwest, he decided to shut down the website Wednesday afternoon, first writing in an apology message to his site’s users. Not only is the ordeal with Southwest not slowing down the 25-year old who graduated two months ago from Stanford with a master’s in computer science, he said he already got and turned town a real job-offer from travel website Expedia.com. Facebook’s offer last summer didn’t interest him either. Visawanathan wants to control his own company. Originally from Lubbock, Texas, he said Silicon Valley is his new home – for good.

“It’s so hard to find good talent everywhere else in the country, but here you have unlimited good talent,” Viswanathan said.

He loves being “unemployed,” instead choosing to work on different projects that seem to move a mile-a-minute in his head.

“My favorite question is, ‘What would you do if you had unlimited time, unlimited money?’ And it’s like, exactly what I’m doing right now.”

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