travel, GenAI, airline travel

While AI is increasingly used to smooth airline travel behind the scenes, Generative AI is poised to put a new face on airline travel that will be seen by fliers.

“Gen AI could take the form of a digital assistant that interacts with customers throughout the journey,” notes Ben Ellencweig, senior partner at McKinsey in a new report on travel industry trends.

That prediction is already coming true. Leading the way in this AI-driven travel experience is Qatar Airways. The Middle East airline is introducing the world’s first AI cabin crew member. Sama (meaning “sky” in Arabic) is a high-fidelity AI construct the airline says will personalize travel for its customers. To start, Sama can converse with passengers to answer frequent questions regarding generic issues baggage allowance or traveling with children. Sama can also suggest things to do during long layovers. If a question is complicated, Sama will transfer the customer to a human agent.

Curated Travel Experiences

However, Sama’s skill set is expected to improve as it learns from customer interactions. Sama will eventually be able to handle tasks like trip booking, upgrades and seat selection. Sama also is expected to upgrade its language skills from English to a dozen languages. In time, Sama will help customers curate individual travel experiences across the Qatar destination network.

“This is a monumental point in spearheading the successful synergy between technology and human connection — not only for Qatar Airways but for the industry at large,” says Baba Rahman, vice president of marketing for Qatar Airways.
Qatar passengers will interact with Sama via QVerse, the airline’s immersive digital platform (developed by Uneeq), or via the airline app.

Sama “is a testament to the endless possibilities of AI, capable of delivering personalized and engaging interactions that mirror human conversation,” says Uneeq CEO Danny Tomsett.

Generative AI for Travel Plans

Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, also plans to leverage generative AI for travel planning in everyday language using OpenAI tools for a debut later this year. Google AI tools are being used to improve in-flight shopping via SabreMosaic with tests now being trialed on several airlines.

AI is already being used to make the airline travel experience smoother and reduce wait times in airports, a challenge in many locations where travel volume has increased in physical spaces that have remained the same size for decades. For example, an AI tool called Connection Saver is being used by United and Alaska Airlines to calculate better connections between flights down to the minute. Other AI programs perform tasks like baggage tracking, gate allocation and optimum fuel use. AI also plays a bigger role in sending text alerts to passengers about delays and other issues.

AI’s role behind the scenes is expected to increase. Air France, for instance, plans to install AI on agent tablets that would allow for responses in 85 languages while Charles de Gaulle is using AI to increase its ability to respond to calls to the airport, reducing the number of unanswered calls from 50% to 10%.

The end game is for an airline AI to become a travel buddy. So when you want to make a restaurant reservation, the AI will do it, once your flight is booked.