Blog: British Airways Looks to Artificial Intelligence to Change Air Travel – Forbes
London Tech Week is finishing up this weekend and though it’s not specifically aimed at travel, there’s no doubt that technology is going to play a huge role in how we move around the globe in coming years. At the moment it can often feel as if technology hasn’t really lived up to its promise. Airline apps are, for the most part, underwhelming and limited in what they can do. Communications about delays and disruptions certainly haven’t gotten any better. Navigating a day of travel can sometimes feel more like an ongoing battle against technology (a temperamental check-in kiosk, for example) rather than a sign of how far we’ve come.
That’s why it’s interesting to hear about what airlines are thinking – how they’re planning to harness AI and other emerging technologies to actually improve things. Surely we should be headed towards smoother operations, less delays, and a more intuitive and user-friendly passenger experience overall, no? British Airways, for one, thinks that’s what’s coming. CEO Alex Cruz took the stage at the AI Summit and announced some new initiatives aimed at improving the flying experience, and called on entrepreneurs to push forward with new innovations.
British Airways has 80 data scientists working on some of these questions, but more notable is parent company International Airline Group’s [IAG] accelerator program known as Hangar 51. Under that program, successful applicants spend ten weeks working with British Airways staff, developing ideas and testing products. For the right startup, it could represent an extraordinary opportunity to build its product and see how it functions in the real world.
Cruz said that the airline is looking at using artificial intelligence to change things across the board – tracking and predicting delays before they happen, streamlining the movement of cargo and bags, and reducing (maybe even eliminating) queues. The possibilities are limitless. Future applications may target improving everything from waste management to loyalty programs. According to Cruz, his team are already working on machine learning algorithms to fine-tune the amount of fresh food that gets loaded onto any given flight, reducing waste and ensuring everyone gets their choice – at least in theory.
Many of these technologies are still in their infancy, and these things take time to develop, so we may not have our travel experiences revolutionized overnight. But it’s great to know that people are working hard at this. If they can get these things right, technology should offer a win-win for all involved.
If you have a great travel tech idea, the next round of applications to join the Hangar 51 program closes on August 2. The rest of us are hoping you come up with something great.