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Air Canada's Chatbot Mishap: How Will AI Affect the Passenger Experience on Flights?

Air Canada's Chatbot Mishap: How Will AI Affect the Passenger Experience on Flights?

BY LUKAS WOERNER Published on February 27, 2024 0 COMMENTS

In February, a Canadian tribunal ordered that Air Canada pay a refund to a Canadian passenger following the misguidance of its artificial intelligence (AI) customer service chatbot. The event, stemming from a 2022 incident in which the AI advised the consumer that he was refund-eligible through an Air Canada bereavement policy, resulted in a CA$600 ($444) refund. 

 

Photo: Mark M. | AeroXplorer

 

The policy, instructed by the chatbot, affected the individual's purchasing decision and ultimately was incorrect. However, this incident can be more impactful than what first meets the eye, as air travel, a highly-consumer-driven industry, has been keen to adopt AI.

 



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According to Air Canada, the development and implementation of AI solutions began in 2018. Following its initial launch, Air Canada's Chief Information Officer has spoken positively about its functionality, specifically in the post-COVID-19 climate, as the new technology has "played a vital role in Air Canada's recovery." Some AI services have been critical in forecasting financial models in the revenue management department. Additionally, their cargo wing has been using language-learning software to manage its inventory.

 

Photo: Peter Cuthbert | AeroXplorer

 

These benefits can be reflected across other airlines. United Airlines also doubled down on data analytics after the pandemic to boost the passenger experience and simplify the jobs for the in-flight crew. United's digital technology group is currently exploring language models to plan user itineraries for users and increase customer service's speed and effectiveness.

 



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Beyond enhancing the user experience through financial modeling, another massive shift in the use of AI relates to staffing. Air Canada replaced most of their employee call center team with AI-driven automation in the summer of 2023. This effort has been met with mixed results, as the AI representatives handle frequent issues, and those that are too complex for the computers are promoted to human representatives. This allows humans to become "super-agents" who can dedicate their time more effectively to solving critical issues instead of more mundane requests. 

 

Photo: Cody Newton | AeroXplorer

 

However, those in client-facing customer support roles should be cautious about expanding AI into interpersonal fields. Popular fast-food restaurant Bojangles, a North Carolina-based restaurant, recently began deploying an AI-exclusive drive-thru experience. The system, named Bo-Linda, has deployed at 10 expansion locations in the latter half of 2023 and has eliminated the use of human workers in the ordering process, reducing the number of jobs required to staff a location.

 

Airports and air traffic management will continue modernizing and deploying further technical advancements to drive the industry forward. AI solutions are only starting to get deployed in this space and look poised to grow immensely in the coming years. However, in the case of Air Canada, legal disclaimers and regulations must evolve quickly to organize any risks or pitfalls before they become problematic. 

 



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