Bots don’t always have to be super-intelligent. They often just need to be super-helpful.
A new bot from Icelandair, the iconic airline from Iceland that serves you fresh bread, even in economy class, has a new bot that helps you plan and book a trip. What I didn’t realize before testing it out is that the bot can suggest staying in Iceland for a day or so at no extra charge. You fly there, stay a few days, then jump back on your flight after the “layover” in one of my favorite places on Earth. (Watch the movie “Walter Mitty”; it gives you a brilliant glimpse of the landscape.)
A few years ago, I spent time in Iceland and toured the country. This fall, I’m flying to Austria from the Minneapolis area. If you know your geography, you can map things out pretty easily — it makes sense to arc up to Iceland because it’s roughly halfway between the two.
Going in, I had no idea what to expect from the Icelandair bot. As with most chatbots these days, there are few A.I.-enabled features and a focus on one particular feature. This bot is essentially a glorified travel agent. You type your originating city, then your destination. You select how many days you want to stay in Iceland. You tell the bot how many people are traveling and if you had children or an infant flying with you. (This part is a bit cryptic because you have to type using the syntax 2/1/1 for two adults, one child and one infant.) I tried flying directly to Vienna and to Munich, and then tried a few other options.
In one case, the bot popped up and said the flight dates were off. That meant it wasn’t possible to arrange a night in Iceland on the way there and the way back and then travel to Austria on the dates selected. I made some adjustments and managed to find a reasonable flight to Munich.
One of the interesting things about using this chatbot is that an app, or an online portal like Expedia, doesn’t really do the “thinking” for you. You can’t quite tell Expedia that you want to do a long layover in Iceland, although you can create a multi-destination route yourself. I liked how Icelandair quickly guided me to the “book” option, although I wasn’t quite ready to hand over my credit card. (I’m still trying to figure out if I really want to stay in Iceland.)
It’s amazing to think about where this could go. I imagine having a bot that does a lot more than remind you that you can stay in Iceland without a penalty. Bots could track airline deals for us and alert us when rates get low. They could track previous trips and suggest new routes. Bots can remember and remind, which is something apps and sites don’t often do. It’s that tipping point for chatbots becoming so useful that we choose them over apps.