There aren’t many of us who don’t have some sort of voice assistant in our homes. Whether you use it for checking the weather, listening to the radio or, like me, for making sure you don’t burn your dinner, these smart speakers have become part of the fabric of modern life. But did you know you can also book flights on Alexa? Here’s how SunExpress is paving the way to a new kind of booking platform.
The first (and only) airline to be bookable on Amazon Alexa
SunExpress became the first airline in the world to be bookable through the Alexa voice assistant from Amazon. No need to press a button, no need to swipe, simply ask and Alexa will do it for you. Not only that, but bookings can be paid for using Amazon Pay, so there’s no need to even reach for your wallet when you want to book.
But this is nothing new. In fact, SunExpress went live with Amazon Alexa bookings almost a year ago, in December 2018. However, they are still the only airline to take care of the entire process, from query to booking and payment, using nothing but voice control.
Other services such as Kayak and Skyscanner allow flights to be searched on Alexa, but the booking still requires the use of the Amazon website. Just last month, Iberia began allowing check-in via Amazon Alexa, but you still can’t buy the ticket. We heard from Peter Glade, Chief Commercial Office for SunExpress, at the recent IATA Wings of Change conference just how his airline makes it work.
How did they make it work?
Peter explained how SunExpress got started with Amazon Alexa. He told us,
“SunExpress was the first airline to be bookable on Amazon Alexa. When we had the first contact with Amazon they said how do you want to connect your content with us. And we said well, we can build a custom made interface and you go to SunExpress; 87 planes, 10 million passengers, one billion in revenue. They said, yeah sorry we’re not interested.”
A harsh knockback indeed. However, SunExpress was not giving up on this idea. Peter continued,
“So we said then let’s use NDC. And suddenly they became interested, because they understood that if they had the NDC interface, they could actually connect the entire industry very openly.”
NDC or New Distribution Capability is a travel industry-supported initiative that was launched by IATA to help standardize the way bookings are made on airlines. Without getting too deeply into how it works, it is based on XML and works to enhance the communications and capabilities between travel agents and airlines.
It’s widely used by many airlines around the world, including KLM, JetBlue, Singapore, British Airways, Qantas, Air France, American Airlines… the list goes on. You can see why Amazon was suddenly keen to do business with SunExpress; by cracking the NDC nut with this airline, it would open up the potential for more airlines to become bookable via Alexa, paving the way to a voice-controlled future.
For SunExpress, it’s not just about getting customers to book via Alexa. This initiative is part of a wider push to be available wherever the customer is. Peter said,
“Here is the point. Let the customer decide where he wants to buy his ticket. If he wants to do that in WeChat, let’s let him do that. If he wants to do it in Facebook, in Amazon, or in his weather app, let us be there. And then let him not only be able to buy the seat, but to buy whatever he needs for that travel.”
We’ve discussed several times recently how important retail is for airlines, and how being able to drive ancillary revenue is key to remaining profitable right now. Peter Glade explained just how far this can go.
“If that is just the seat, if that is the seat plus the bag, if that is the seat plus the bag plus the insurance … or new things, plus the shoes, plus the hammock plus whatever he needs… let us be technologically savvy to be able to offer it when he needs it, and not afraid when he does not need it.”
SunExpress is something of a trailblazer in terms of technology, and clearly has its sights firmly fixed on being ready for the future. It’s a tough step-change for many traditional airlines, but one which will become ever more important as we move into the 2020s.
What do you think? Would you book your next trip on Amazon Alexa? Let us know in the comments.