British Airways’ CEO looks to AI to enhance the passenger experience

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This week saw chairman and CEO of British Airways, Alex Cruz, challenge artificial intelligence (AI) experts to help him transform the customer journey. Such technology could enhance the airline’s complex global operations, in which one of its 300 aircraft takes off from somewhere in the world every 90 seconds.

Cruz asked delegates at the AI Summit at London Tech Week to help his team of 80 data scientists offer the airline’s customers new, intuitive services, change the way tickets are sold, guarantee no bags are ever misplaced and replace physical airport queues with virtual ones.

He encouraged entrepreneurs and start-ups to submit proposals to its parent company International Airlines Group’s (IAG) accelerator programme, Hangar 51, which sees successful applicants embedded in the business, working side by side with an international team of mentors and experts from across IAG. The 10-week accelerator programme nurtures start-ups with a range of technologies, enabling them to develop and test their products on a global scale.

Cruz also outlined some of the advancements the airline is making using AI to improve the service it offers its customers.

For example, via Hangar 51, British Airways is working with technology start-up Assaia. Assaia’s intelligent software captures on video every moment from when an aircraft arrives at the airport to its departure, helping airline workers to see the numerous tasks going on around the aircraft (such as fuelling, cleaning, baggage and catering loading and unloading) and alerting them to issues that could delay the flight’s departure. ​

British Airways is also trialling driverless vehicles at Heathrow. The luggage of customers travelling on certain flights from Terminal 5 is now being driven from baggage belts to aircraft on driverless baggage trucks, which speeds up the delivery of bags. ​

A driverless baggage truck in operation at London Heathrow Terminal 5

British Airways is also trialling a computer system which looks at flight plans, pulls data from the Global Air Traffic Control database, and suggests quicker routes, with the goal of reducing delays for customers. ​

The airline’s team of AI specialists has also designed and created machine learning algorithms to adjust the volume of fresh food being loaded onto individual flights to help meet customer demand and minimise waste.

Cruz stated, “It is important that we deliver the best service to our customers and that’s why we are looking for the best people to help us. We have a big team of specialists, but British Airways and IAG Digital are open to new ideas about how we can use AI to try to reduce flight delays, eliminate airport queues or create a more personalised service for our customers – providing them with relevant in-the-moment travel updates or a unique service, like reserving their favourite seat or serving their favourite meal.”

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Ever since his first flight on a TriStar, Adam has loved air travel, and since becoming editor of the Aircraft Interiors International brand he has really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the latest aircraft and airline products before they are even launched. Adam co-ordinates the running of the magazine, from commissioning articles and artwork, to ensuring that high standards of quality are maintained, as well as managing online content. Adam is proud to sit on the jury of the Crystal Cabin Awards and to have laid on the bed in Etihad's Residence.

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