Originally Posted: 06 March 2023
Author: Mike Krause, Ari Kamlani
Los Angeles


Flying is stressful in the best of times. Add lost bags, missed connections, days-long delays and unresponsive customer service to the equation and vacations or business trips can turn into nightmares. There’s a lot that needs to go right to get travelers from point A to point B. Breakdowns in technology – either from age or inflexibility – at any stage, e.g., scheduling, rescheduling, baggage sorting or air traffic control process, leaves passengers stranded and frustrated.


Unfortunately for Southwest Airlines, its debacle during the 2022 holiday season has made it the posterchild of outdated airline technology. There’s still speculation as to the biggest offender responsible for the more than 16,000 canceled flights.1 What is clear is that the airline industry needs a technology overhaul to be better equipped to adapt to bad weather, labor issues, and complicated communication channels.  


While there are many aspects that need to be modernized and different solutions for each, Hybrid artificial intelligence (AI) can address certain critical issues that will help airlines avoid another billion-dollar “epic screwup.” Hybrid AI is a technology that unites the best of non-symbolic AI (like machine learning and deep learning) and symbolic AI, or the variety of AI that mimics human intelligence. These halves combined create a technology that uses encoded human-like knowledge to solve data-driven and pattern-heavy concepts.


Here’s where and how Hybrid AI can have the most positive effects.


Intelligent decision-making under pressure

Airlines can’t change the weather, but they can change how they react to poor conditions. Confidence should be at the center of every swift judgement, and in an industry where human safety is at stake, decision-makers benefit from the extra conviction they gain from Hybrid AI-informed data. With Hybrid AI, unlike other AI types, you can easily track how it gets to its conclusions with easy-to-understand audit trails. This “explainable technology” works in tandem with its human colleagues, resulting in fast and accurate output.


When passengers know early on that their flights are canceled, they can quickly begin planning alternate routes and hopefully still get to their destination on time. Hybrid AI, trained with relevant domain knowledge (flight patterns, flyable and unsafe weather conditions, weather patterns, etc.), can support fast scheduling decisions because of its human-like reasoning and ability to comprehend situations, even when statistical patterns and data are scarce. Hybrid AI doesn’t replace human thinking – it enhances it, so human operators still have the final say on all decisions.


Additionally, AI can assist in scheduling and rescheduling by adding a layer of analytics to real-time updates, resulting in accurate and timely insights. For example, a quick-thinking Hybrid AI could offer flight desk staffing, gate availability, and luggage rerouting suggestions in response to one delayed plane.


Anomaly detection

Often regarded among the most stressful occupations, air traffic controllers could benefit significantly from Hybrid AI as well. Southwest was at the center of another aviation mishap in February 2023 when a FedEx cargo plane narrowly missed a Southwest passenger plane.2 A crisis was averted, but near misses like these beg the question: When will the airline industry integrate AI into their technology stack to improve passenger safety?


Anomaly detection is a relatively mature AI application that detects issues prior to failure and takes necessary actions to prevent the failure from occurring. Anomaly detection can assist human operators in identifying air traffic jams, smoothing air traffic communications, and avoiding collisions. Similarly, it can aid in the following airline logistics:


  • Flight path deviations

  • Scheduling

  • Gate and luggage conflicts

  • On-tarmac logistics, such as fuel storage, de-icing, etc.


The more disruptions that can be avoided, the smoother (and safer) air travel will become. And the sooner the airline industry invests in AI, the more scalable and sustainable air travel operations will be for the future.


Customer experience and issue resolution

AI-enabled chatbots are now more frequently integrated into customer experience teams to assist in issue resolution. AI (specifically generative AI) has various applications across customer service, and its popularity across industries will likely skyrocket. Chatbots can churn out empathetic resolutions almost as well as any experienced customer service rep; however, unresolved customer gripes can stack up quickly after just one misstep. And the longer they sit, the more the brand and its public opinion suffers. Ultimately, the goal of any organization should be to cut down on the volume of complaints. It’s here where Hybrid AI shines.


Hybrid AI’s ability to inform quick and confident decisions is a boon to any overwhelmed customer service department. Plus, its usage in issue prediction and encoded actions can limit disruptions, keeping passengers happy.


Hybrid AI and Airline Issue Resolution

AI of any sort allows leaders to accomplish more at-scale and to make quicker and more confident decisions. The airline industry is in major need of full-scale modernization to continue to ensure reliable and safe air travel. Industry leaders should seriously consider the many applications of Hybrid AI and start making moves to implement it to unburden short-staffed teams and guarantee smooth operations to minimize passenger complaints.


Connect today to learn more about Beyond Limits’ cognitive artificial intelligence solutions.

1Reuters, “Senators blast Southwest holiday meltdown, labeled ‘unmitigated disaster’

2BBC, “Southwest and FedEx planes nearly collide at Texas airport