Artificial Intelligence

Qatar Airways Introduces the First AI Flight Attendant

Cargo being loaded on an airplane at an airport
Credit: Mariakray / stock.adobe.com

Of all the jobs we expected might be taken over by artificial intelligence, the venerable flight attendant was not anywhere towards the top of the list.

Qatar Airways, however, has rolled out what it calls “the first digital human in aviation”—just don’t ask them for a pillow or a bag of peanuts.

Instead, Sama 2.0, as the AI assistant is called, will offer information to passengers on various topics from travel information to on-board services. It is, as the name implies, a second generation of the technology. This time Sama looks more human-like, with expressions and simulated breathing versus the video-game like character it reflected before.

So what does this mean for the future of travel? Qatar is using Sama to help passengers book flights and complete transactions. The generative AI qualities take it a step beyond the scripted chatbot experiences of the past, which Qatar is hoping will make potential passengers more open to interacting with it.

Sama 2.0 will reside in the Qverse, Qatar Airways’ metaverse, and will also assist with queries about both on-ground and in-flight services, ranging from cabin preferences and meal options to baggage allowances. If passengers ask Sama a question it is unable to answer, the AI will transfer them to a human operator.

Sama, which means “Sky” in Arabic, made its debut at the ITB conference, a global travel trade show in Germany held in early March.

“Sama 2.0 represents our relentless pursuit of innovation, and embodies Qatar Airways’ values of exceptional service and hospitality,” said Babar Rahman, Qatar Airways Vice President Marketing, in a statement. “This is a monumental point in spearheading the successful synergy between technology and human connection – not only for Qatar Airways, but also for the industry at large.”

Sama was developed through a partnership between Qatar Airways and UneeQ, a New Zealand-based tech company that makes realistic digital assistants that use lifelike facial expressions to interact with users. The thinking is those expressions demonstrate empathy and give Sama a personality that makes the technology more palatable for people who might resist taking to a machine instead of a human.

Sama even has a backstory: After being raised in Doha, the character then trained to become a flight attendant for Qatar Airways.

The initial version of Sama made its debut in 2022. It was, at the time, dubbed the “first ever metahuman cabin crew.” It was more of a tour guide, though, helping people become more familiar with the Qverse. Now, thanks to generative AI, Sama can engage in conversations with passengers. Despite being ‘raised’ in Doha, the AI only speaks English. An Arabic version, as well as other languages, is expected to debut later this year.

For now, Sama is the only digital flight attendant in the skies. No other airline has made quite this sort of gamble on generative AI, but given the rapid speed of the technology’s adoption, it’s a safe bet other carriers are watching closely to see how passengers interact with Sama—and whether a proprietary digital AI assistant is something they need to add to their fleet.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, more than half of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites, including CNNMoney.com, where he was Director of Content Development, and Yahoo! Finance, where he was managing editor. Today, he writes for dozens of national outlets including Digital Trends, Fortune, and CNBC.com.

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