Seeking to attract tech-savvy customers who increasingly book on mobile devices, Icelandair is trying a unique experiment — it now allows customers to book flights on Facebook Messenger.
Icelandair is not the first airline to engage with customers on Messenger – KLM earlier this year began letting passengers access boarding passes through the app – but the carrier believes it is the first to allow customers to book on the platform. Icelandair introduced the feature on Tuesday, and though it’s a bit clunky, the carrier is bullish on its future.
The airline’s move is part of a growing trend in the travel industry, as brands rush to develop Messenger-compatible programs. Other brands that take Messenger seriously include Hyatt Hotels, Expedia, Kayak and CheapFlights. Some companies only respond to customer queries, while others process bookings.
“It’s Icelandair’s strategy to bring bookings and other services to the places where our customers are,” Guðmundur Óskarsson, Icelandair’s director of marketing and business development, said in an email. “We see our customers increasingly using mobile devices, and we believe this channel is a natural progression.”
It is not the most simple process. Customers must first message @icelandair, which responds by asking whether the traveler seeks a round-trip or one-way fare. The platform then asks a series of questions about where and when the customer wants to travel. Users must respond to each question in exactly the correct format, and it is not always intuitive. A family of four, for example, must type “2/1/1” to indicate that two adults, one child and one infant will be traveling.
Travelers who require extra help can request it from a human, though it takes some time for a customer service representative to respond.
“We understand we are one of the pioneers and that it can feel a bit robotic at first,” Óskarsson said. “But it’s going to get better.”
For now, Icelandair cannot finalize the booking on Messenger. Instead, before payment, it redirects to the airline’s main website.
Óskarsson acknowledged the platform has some flaws, but he noted traditional booking sites also aren’t always so intuitive. And he said the process will improve as the airline’s bot becomes more sophisticated. The airline is working with Travelaer, a French company specializing in airline e-commerce software, to develop its program.
“Even on the best airline websites it takes a few pages or transitions to book, while a messenger bot can easily return answers in one continuous flow and more naturally,” Óskarsson said. “We are testing this service and realize it isn’t perfect but we want to be in this space and try this technology in order to see how our customers react to it.”