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SeatGuru mobile app barely gets off the ground

TripAdvisor releases a multi-functional iPhone app based on SeatGuru's great service, but it's got major flaws.

Can it tell me where the screaming toddlers will be sitting?
Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

I can think of few Web sites that would benefit more from a good mobile app than SeatGuru, a much-loved service that tells you which seats on airplanes are good, and which are not. I never book a flight without checking it out.

The service finally has a mobile site. It's a useful app to have, but it's not a good app. It could have been so much more.

The best bit is that you can just put your airline and flight number into the app to see a map of the seats on the plane. That gives you a kind of Room 77 tool if you're in an airport juggling luggage and lines and trying to rebook a missed or canceled flight.

But what the app doesn't do is give you advice based on your preferences, show you which seats on a flight are actually available, or let you reserve a seat you pick in the app. It also uses the old SeatGuru design for the maps, which was dated back in 2007, when TripAdvisor bought SeatGuru.

There's more: The app doesn't let you zoom in on the seat map, something you can do on the Web site if you run it on your mobile device. So use the Web site if you have bad eyes, like me. Except now that the mobile app is out, every few taps on the site gets you a full-screen come-on for the app, even if you already have it installed.

The app does have other features. It has a the TripAdvisor flight search engine. But it's basic, and buggy. Newer companies like Hipmunk have apps that do much better jobs presenting flight options. The SeatGuru app also had problems with directing me to booking sites: For an American Airlines flight, it sent me to the full Web site instead of the mobile site; the AA full site is unusable on a smartphone. For a JetBlue flight, it sent me to the mobile site but didn't fill in the flight information I had selected from the trip planner.

Finally, there's a flight tracker component. Not much could be done wrong here. Except when I was checking on a flight for today, the app kept showing me "no data available." Why? Because it was checking on a flight for later in the month. I missed that it had selected a day other than today as its default. But why would anyone want to check the on-time status of a flight a week from now?

I will say again that I adore the SeatGuru service. But I do not love this app. TripAdvisor has an opportunity here to do great things to help the frazzled flyer. This app doesn't deliver.

Here's the download link.