Flight search websites aren’t cool. You know what’s cool? Flight search chatbots. Or at least that’s where 2016 seems to be going.
Skyscanner on Wednesday launched flight search within Facebook Messenger, using the new third party development possibilities of the chat platform to respond to travelers’ natural language queries. So instead of pulling up a travel booking site and choosing the various options from check lists and calendars, you can have an almost-natural conversation with a bot to find a flight or get some travel inspiration.
You can access the service at m.me/Skyscanner.
“We are really focused on this, because we think this is the precursor to voice,” Skyscanner’s B2B director Filip Filipov told Mashable, adding that the company has already worked with Amazon to bring some of its search capabilities to Alexa. “It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, because you need to guide the user experience.”
To start, the bot asks for a destination. If you don’t know, you can say so — “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” or “Anywhere” will get a request for where you are flying from — and Skyscanner will return some of the top destinations for travelers departing from your origin city.
Then, if one of those options (or maybe Tulum) is calling your name, type that, and you’ll be asked when you want to go and when you want to return.
Since the bot can’t understand context, it has to make sure the requests are clear. For example, the return date needs to be an actual date and not a number of days in the future.
“‘Hey, I want to fly out this Friday,’ the bot will understand this,” said Filipov. “It will get this. And then ‘I want to return in three days.’ Three days from Friday or three days from today?”
Even though you probably meant Monday, you’re going to need to be more specific. Same goes for destination names that may have more than one option (though I’m sure Paris, Texas, is lovely).
To avoid confusion, Filipov says, the bot confirms choices frequently.
Once there’s a destination and a price that look appealing, a link for more details will take people to a browser to complete the purchase. For now, the actual act of purchasing is outside of Messenger.
To get more complicated options — like specific flight times — you’ll also have to head over to a web browser. Even though the bot can understand a lot, there’s lots of learning to do.
“We need to be a lot more helpful to the customer, and allow them to use the same kind of filtering functionality on the site,” said Filipov.
The service is first launching in English, and Filipov says Skyscanner plans to eventually offer all the major languages in the markets it serves around the world.
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