How British Airways Is Using AI To Revamp Air Travel

British Airways is one of the biggest airlines in the world with one of its flights taking off every 90 seconds. Understandably, there is great complexity in the running of the company, which can lead to inefficiencies arising from flight delays, airport queues and lost luggage. How do we solve this problem? British Airways' Chairman and CEO, Alex Cruz, has turned to artificial intelligence for the answer.

Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5, the home of British Airways (Source: Flickr, Warren Rohner)

Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5, the home of British Airways (Source: Flickr, Warren Rohner)

At the AI Summit at London Tech Week, Cruz reached out to artificial intelligence experts to aid in finding a solution to all of these problems. He says that startups can be able to join the International Airline Group's (IAG), the parent company of British Airways, accelerator program called Hangar 51. Here, innovators would be able to work alongside British Airways' 80 data scientists to develop and test new ideas. An example of the work that is done in Hangar 51 is from the startup Assaia. The artificial intelligence tech firm created an intelligent software that "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 (fuelling, cleaning, baggage and catering loading and unloading) and alerting them to issues that could delay the flight's departure." Hangar 51 is looking for applicants that can help in these seven categories: airport operations and logistics, future of customer interaction, disruption management, future cargo logistics, sustainability, new products and service and wildcards (" any new disruptive ideas that have the potential to reshape the travel industry.")

An example of Assaia’s work. (Source: British Airways)

An example of Assaia’s work. (Source: British Airways)

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.
— Alex Cruz, Chairman and CEO of British Airways

Cruz also expressed interest in adding driverless baggage trucks to Heathrow airport, so customers' luggage could be driven from the baggage belts directly to the aircraft, which would speed up the process of the delivery of the bags. Furthermore, British Airways is trialling an AI-powered computer system that can track and predict flight delays before they happen improving customer satisfaction, and can use live data from the Global Air Traffic Control Database to suggest shorter and quicker routes to reduce delays. Additionally, the team of scientists have created machine learning algorithms that can be used to monitor and adjust the amount of fresh food that is loaded onto flights, so that food waste is minimised while the consumer demand is still met. British Airways are also looking into ways that airport queues could be reduced or even be gone completely by introducing virtual queues.