This Woman's App Helps You Plan Pandemic-Safe Travel

pandemic airline travel

Photo Credit: Anna Shvets/Pexels

This post is part of a series of branded posts sponsored by Verizon. The focus of the series — part of a paid partnership between Verizon and CircleAround — is on women small-business owners and how they are navigating the complexities and challenges of contemporary business, from the pandemic to the economy.

As the holiday season approaches, more people are considering finally traveling again, after not having the opportunity to do so for several months, to see friends and family. But while many airlines are still flying “business as usual,” not all their health and safety policies are created equal. That’s part of what inspired Saniya Shah to co-found her venture-backed travel tech company, Pilota.

“We use AI to assess travel risk, and have launched a product that helps travelers analyze health and safety risks as they plan their journeys,” Shah tells CircleAround. “This has been gaining quite a bit of traction in the current environment.”

As of this writing, Pilota has analyzed approximately 355,601 flights for health and safety standards. For example, users can quickly and easily assess the COVID-19 policies airlines have adapted to serve their customers. As airlines update their procedures, sometimes daily, Pilota uses its technology to scrape the data in real-time so it reflects each policy accurately as users require it.

The widget can be added to a Chrome browser and users can compare flights based on safety, flexibility, and reliability factors, such as the likelihood of delays, cancelations, and more. CircleAround caught up with Shah to learn more about Pilota and her inspiration for creating the company.

CA: What inspired you to build your own business?

SS: Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs allowed me to see from a young age that building your own company is possible, which I think is something that not everyone gets to experience. For many, the thought of quitting everything to build something seems crazy, but for me, growing up in the way that I did, it almost seemed crazy not to try.

Any business you see today had to start from somewhere.

Apart from my life as a founder, I have a passion for dance. I competed nationally on a dance team in college, and I've been to around 50+ countries. This led me to build a virtual choreography company called Kahaani, and I have worked in the innovation incubator of Fortune 7 company, UnitedHealth Group, where I created and launched new products for the company. I was also featured recently in Forbes as a Game Changer in Travel.

CA: How did you get started in the travel industry?

SS: My cofounders and I met in grad school at Cornell, where we decided to combine our passions for travel and expertise in technology to build a company that can enhance the passenger experience. Our company works to use emerging technology to solve real travel problems.

Our first product predicts flights that will be delayed or canceled so travelers can prepare ahead of time for any inconveniences. Our second product allows travelers to analyze health/safety risks on their upcoming itineraries. As the CEO, my role is to lead the company as well as take on sales, marketing, fundraising, and more.

Don't be afraid to share your accomplishments. How will anyone know what you have accomplished if you don't share it?

CA: How did Pilota go from being a side-hustle to your full-time gig?

SS: We all took a leap of faith when we decided to not take full-time job offers so we could dedicate our time to working on this startup. It paid off; seeing our work as wanted by customers was an amazing, validating feeling. One of the exciting moments with Pilota was when we signed on our first customer.

CA: What new developments in the travel industry are you focusing on?

SS: Currently our company is focusing on traveler health and safety. Since COVID began, this has been the primary concern of anyone looking to travel (whether it is to the grocery store or a trip across the country). We are focused on developing solutions to empower users to feel safe while doing so.

CA: What words of advice can you offer those looking to dive into the startup world?

SS: I have three pieces of advice:

1. If you want to build your own business, it may seem daunting at first. But remember that any business you see today had to start from somewhere. Trace back the history of some businesses that you admire, and see how they originated. This may relieve some of that pressure and anxiety, and encourage you to try it!

2. Support is everywhere. It's important to build a network around you that can support you in your goals, whether it's a community you are a part of, mentors that advise you, or your peers; they are more important than you know.

3. Don't be afraid to share your accomplishments. Many people feel that it's self-centered, or they feel like they are bragging when they do so, but how will anyone know what you have accomplished if you don't share it?

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