Reducing costs and improving customer experience is a tricky marriage. Yet this is what the air travel industry is under pressure to implement.

It’s hardly surprising it is embracing innovative technologies to help. Chief among them are artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and other closely linked technologies. The latter includes machine learning, large language models, computer vision, and smart data capture.

Industry research has lifted the lid on how the air industry is focusing on AI. Recently, an industry title revealed the demand for expertise is so high the sector is struggling to fill various technology-related job vacancies – and AI is top of the list.

Here, we’ll share 17 real examples of how Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, American Airlines, various major airports, and others are investing in AI and related technology.

And how they’re doing this to:

  • Operate more efficiently
  • Boost the capacity of their workers
  • Elevate passenger experiences

Providing better passenger access to flight information and updates

Airlines use AI in various ways to help them make travel easier and more stress-free for their customers.

In many cases, passengers need better access to flight information. This can be done by leveraging AI and the smartphones in their hands. Equipping staff with smart devices also allows them to provide this real-time information.

1. Airport chatbot apps – such as those implemented at Melbourne and Lyon airports – provide flight information and even parking advice and restaurant recommendations. It is a great way to provide information – as long as it’s updated in real time.

2. British Airways (BA) is turning to AI to improve customer services, such as faster routing of calls to the correct agents. The move is part of BA CEO Sean Doyle’s aims to overhaul British Airways’ operations. Modernizing BA’s outdated IT systems and revamping its service are key priorities.

3. It’s possible to reduce passenger stress by adding augmented reality (AR) to smart device apps to provide on-screen flight information with a scan of their boarding pass. Mobile agents can also leverage real-time information on smart devices to handle passenger requests in the gate area. They can quickly provide passenger information or services, including upgrades and seat changes, with a boarding pass or passport scan.

Capturing data for a personalized passenger experience

Pairing AI with captured passenger journey data can help operations run more efficiently. It can enable a more personalized passenger experience i.e., predicting behavior and preferences like seat position or meal choice.

Airline staff armed with these insights via smart devices can upsell additional services on the spot. However the challenge in exploiting AI effectively is getting the correct information into your systems and then making the most of it.

4. IAG is using quantum and edge computing to process passenger data. These advancements aim to provide faster and more secure data processing to help them develop new products and services. AI applications include flight monitoring, customer experience management, and enhancing real-time communication.

5. Delta Air Lines has used biometric testing via a mobile app to understand where passengers were most stressed in the journey. Delta relied on post-flight surveys but lacked real-time feedback.

To address this, it looked at biometrics and in-the-moment feedback. Passengers used a smart device app to report stress levels and upload video responses, while also wearing heart rate monitors.

Using AI to provide physical help and entertainment

There are simpler ways AI innovation can improve passenger airport experience. Passengers often have time to spend, making them more likely to engage with new devices or technological initiatives.

In addition, many airports require passengers to do a substantial amount of walking. But getting them through that journey can require staffing time. Here AI and automation can play a role in facilitating movement through the airport.

6. The robot manicurist has been launched at John F. Kennedy Airport. The service uses AI and 3D technology to paint nails in under 10 minutes. The company behind the service also aligns with passengers who prefer non-human-to-human contact.

7. Southwest Airlines and Atlanta airport are trialing self-driving ‘pods’ to help people with limited mobility access their flights. The pods are designed to safely transport people and allow them to navigate the airport more independently.

Speeding up times at the gate and scaling for travel peaks

AI is being deployed in various ways to transform airport operations and augment employees to help keep costs down.

Leveraging technology to refine these processes ensures smoother operations and enhances the airport’s ability to adapt to unexpected changes and ensure timely departures and arrivals.

8. American Airlines is using machine learning to reduce gate planning times from 4 hours to under 3 minutes, freeing up staff to deal with passengers. It allowed operations teams to focus on higher-order tasks and improved customer experiences – despite being built on a legacy system. It has already resulted in a reduction of 1 million gallons of fuel consumption annually.

9. Heathrow Airport majority owner Ferrovial is working with Microsoft on AI tools to predict airport passenger bottlenecks and notify airlines. The tool predicts changes in passenger traffic and identifies anomalies such as runway cracks. It also aids inspection work and allows for better management of airport operations.

10. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) replaced dedicated scanners with a smart data capture-powered solution to handle barcode scanning and OCR via its mobile agents’ smartphone apps and web browsers. It uses this to capture data and streamline passenger interactions. SAS plans to expand the use of the app globally and add new workflows.

Using AI to manage and plan ticket pricing

One of the top considerations in setting flight prices is the load factor, the metric used to determine the percentage of available seats that passengers could have filled.

From a human perspective, it requires the ability to predict accurately but biases and other concerns can hamper this. AI can sidestep these issues and produce an algorithmically-generated price based on the data.

11. JetBlue has teamed up with an AI-forecasting specialist to develop ways to optimize revenue and improve customer experience. The system will enable JetBlue to develop its optimization capabilities and make real-time decisions based on real-time intelligence and analytics.

12. Virgin Atlantic has introduced a similar system to automate its ticket pricing processes from pricing to publishing using AI. It predicts demand and inventory in all markets, allowing for dynamic pricing that is designed to incentivize bookings.

Reuniting travelers with lost bags: tech innovations in luggage recovery

Baggage handling is another area where AI innovation can cut costs, reducing lost or mishandled luggage. It is estimated that in 2020 – a slow year for travel – lost luggage cost the industry $600 million.

New applications to tackle this for AI are being rolled out constantly. AI can help cross-reference images and the data travelers submit to sort lost bags faster than traditional baggage handlers.

13. Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport and Syracuse Hancock International Airport are using a lost and found platform utilizing AI matching technology to reconnect people with their lost items. Airports implement the platform, which uses advanced algorithms to match lost items with their owners.

14. Etihad Airways has showcased new baggage-drop terminals that can scan and memorize suitcases through a camera system, potentially eliminating the need for luggage tags. Biometrics are used to identify passengers and offer personalized shopping experiences.

15. Combining AR and automation on smart devices can streamline manual tasks and alleviate the mental load for agents searching for luggage. Agents can use Scandit Smart Data Capture technology to quickly locate the right bag. They can scan luggage labels and match the luggage with the passenger using augmented reality overlays.

Enhancing airport security through advanced ID verification

Facial recognition has a place in speeding up processes and is already familiar to anyone who has recently been through passport control. Boarding is among the latest innovations it has been developed to improve.

Its usage is also being extended for security reasons, although there are concerns about machine learning bias that need to be addressed.

16. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is implementing facial recognition technology at major airports across the US. Passengers insert their ID into a kiosk, which compares their face with the photo on their ID. The TSA plans to expand the use of this technology next year. However, legislators will need to address concerns about bias.

17. Smart data capture technology can bring in the same level of convenience while sidestepping any bias issues. It can do this by enabling smart devices to scan boarding passes and ID documents such as passports and driver’s licenses (for internal flights). Many airlines are currently using this as a way to speed up passenger boarding.

Summary: Taking advantage of AI means capturing the right data and using it in real-time

Airlines, like most industries, are turning to AI-related technologies to address the dual objective of reducing operational costs and elevating passenger experiences.

The embrace of AI technologies, such as machine learning, large language models, and data analytics, directly responds to the industry’s challenges. It can potentially drive innovation and generate tangible results. Either in differentiation from the competition or driving efficiency savings.

However, as this progresses, it is essential to consider the following:

  • Smartphones enable customers and employees to access the insights and information these technologies provide in real-time.
  • Effective data capture along the entire passenger (and baggage) journey enables AI models to generate reliable predictive models.
  • Getting AI-driven insight is one thing; presenting it in a human and engaging way is another. Here, technology such as AR can help to display these AI-induced insights in a seamless way to enhance experiences or drive efficiency.

While AI performs numerous behind-the-scenes tasks, its accurate measure of success lies in its seamless integration with passenger processes or airline staff operational outcomes.

Any airline looking at AI needs to ramp up data collection to ensure the raw data going into these innovative systems is comprehensive. Smart data capture technology across websites, passenger applications, and operational apps for agents can ensure speed, accuracy, and intelligence.

Smart devices, in particular, are a key tool to support various uses of AI. They are best placed to connect what is happening in the data center with what is happening in the airport, the air, and the real and digital worlds.

Want to find out more about how to bring innovation into your airline operations with the latest Smart Data Capture? Then check out our guide ‘7 Strategies for a First-Class Airport Experience’.

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