Air Transport World

Bigger than the Internet?

Speech-recognition technology may revolutionize airline ticket distribution, if hurdles can be overcome

Airlines are on the verge of a new dimension in ticket-distribution technology with the introduction of "conversational" speech-recognition systems capable of performing reservations, sales, schedule and/or flight-information functions.

Some airlines, such as Air Canada and American, view existing speech-recognition technology as a supplement to traditional distribution pathways but others believe it will revolutionize the industry when used in conjunction with electronic (e-)ticket and Internet sales applications.

"It's profoundly important," declares Continental Airlines Staff Vice President for Distribution Planning Steve Cossette. "We believe intelligent speech systems are going to be more important to us over the next 3-4 years than the Internet, and here's why. Everyone has a telephone. No one has to buy anything. No one has to learn anything new. The telephone is ubiquitous. It is the most convenient technology tool available to anyone, anywhere. And we use it for everything."

Northwest Airlines Vice President-Distribution Planning Al Lenza agrees with this optimistic forecast, with a caveat: "That's probably true if you're comparing it to the Internet as it is today. But the Internet isn't going to stand still, either."

Cossette says Continental is near to selecting a speech-recognition vendor to supply passenger reservations applications. A spokesman for Delta Air Lines likewise tells ATW the airline is in conversation with a number of suppliers and is "very interested" in the technology. Other airlines already are using speech recognition technology for some passenger service functions.

Northwest may be the first to offer a fully capable system to the public. …

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