From Check-In to Arrival – Your Flight Companion May Just Be AI
With ever more passengers flying around the world, whether for business or pleasure, surely AI will be contributing in some way? After all, $125.2 billion was spent on U.S. commercial airline tickets in 2016, and the industry represents around 2.6% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Unfortunately, airlines and the aircraft manufacturers are quite risk averse. This means they prioritize maintaining the high level of safety we have come to expect over implementing new technologies.
Despite this, AI is starting to make inroads into air travel, from the airline operators to the aerospace industry that builds, delivers and services the aircraft. For passengers, this can start before you’ve made it to the airport.
Having teamed up with the Amazon Alexa team, United Airlines is offering their passengers the “United Skill” app. Responding to the standard wake word, it can provide real-time information on flights, whether or not a flight offers in-flight Wi-Fi, and will even check you in.
Also looking to the future with confidence is American Airlines. They run an annual app development competition, known as “HackWars”, encouraging designers, developers and IT professionals to leverage the power of AI in a new app that could benefit passengers and employees. The 2017 winner developed an app that could determine the passenger’s luggage size and even handle prepayments for any extra charges.
In the summer of 2017, Delta Airlines announced the introduction of automated check-in counters using facial recognition. A classic application for AI, the facial recognition system is used to match a customer’s identity to their passport photo. Delta claimed that such innovation helps to speed up the journey through check-in, freeing up customer representatives who can concentrate on providing a more proactive and personal customer service.
It is often said that travelling is not about the destination; it is the journey that’s important. With this in mind, aerospace businesses such as Airbus are reviewing how AI can help. By using Open Source Big Data, they feel that AI could help to better understand the travel experience by analyzing social media and other online posts. The outcomes of this research have the potential to influence the design of aircraft and help airlines in positioning their services.
Airbus also generates enormous amounts of data, collected from the manufacturing process of aircraft, their internal systems, and from the testing of engines and aircraft – the perfect starting point for applying AI. Potential optimization can then effectively be foreseen in manufacturing, the implementation of smart maintenance, flight operations or even the development of virtual assistants to support the pilot and crew.
To sustain a healthy airline industry, safety will always come first before innovation. But AI is already proving itself to be up to the challenge, especially around passenger experience and optimizing the manufacturing and servicing of these costly airborne machines.