Skift Take

Qatar Airways plans to put an AI-generated, digital human with an uncanny presence at the forefront of its customer experience.

Those interested in flying with Qatar Airways, may have a few questions first: Where does Qatar fly to? What does first class look like?

For answers, those potential customers may meet Sama, a “digital human” decked out in Qatar’s burgundy flight attendant uniform. 

Sama is Qatar’s AI-generated cabin crew member found on the carrier’s Qverse, which walks customers through a virtual reality version of its products. 

Customers can access the Qverse through their phone or computer, with Sama there waiting to answer any questions. 

In the Qverse, Sama looks and sounds human but also has an uncanny presence that’s become a hallmark for computer-generated figures. Sama has an extensive backstory (“grew up” in Doha and “became” a flight attendant for Qatar) and can converse with customers about Qatar’s in-flight menu or lounge access.

Qatar Airways unveiled Sama on Wednesday at the ITB Berlin conference, a travel trade show, and the carrier plans to make the character a central figure to its customer service experience. 

Turning to a ‘Digital Human’ for Customer Service

Babar Rahman, Qatar Airways’ vice president of marketing, said the airline wanted to introduce new customers to the service.

“If we look at today, if you want to book an airline ticket or airport, you have to do a lot of research,” Rahman said. “You have to go places and see, OK, how is the airport and everything? What’s best than coming to one place where you get the full experience, how the airport looks, how the product looks on board, and also you can have a two-way conversation with an assistant.”

He added that Qatar hopes to integrate Sama into its broader passenger experience.

Qatar collaborated with New Zealand-based startup Uneeq, which uses generative-AI to create “digital humans.” Uneeq has previously worked with investment banks like UBS and cosmetics brands Kiehl’s to create AI-generated humans to deliver economic forecasts or offer advice on which beauty products to buy. The startup even created an AI-generated version of Albert Einstein.

“We’ve really focused a lot around aliveness and natural human interaction — and it’s all AI-powered,” said Danny Tomsett, Uneeq’s CEO.

Sama can provide information on ground and on-board services, Qatar’s network, flight information and general FAQs, and can even play games with travelers.

The thought of interacting with a digital human may be daunting for some customers. Tomsett said Uneeq has found that people aged 40 and below have typically responded well. He said the startup has been investing in creating digital humans that can mimic real-life conversations to make older customers more comfortable.

Airlines Slowly Warm Up to AI for Operations

AI has become a hot topic in the airline industry, as carriers look to use it to streamline their operations in areas like route planning or revenue management

On the customer service front, airlines have been using chatbots to mixed response. For example, Air Canada was hit with a lawsuit when its chatbot offered an invalid discount to a passenger.

Rahman and Tomsett both emphasized that Sama would be different from a typical AI chatbot because of its ability to converse with travelers.

“What Sama does is answer your question in real time,” Rahman said, “and also it can answer questions in the near future, where it will be able to help you with your bookings, it will be able to help you with where your baggage is, it will be able to help you with even booking your entire journey.”

Sama makes Qatar the first airline to use a generative-AI human bot as a core part of its customer service. “We’re using Sama not only just for the sake of representing a digital human in the space,” Rahman said. “It’s also reflecting our whole brand DNA, reflective of our brand positioning as well — that we are an innovative brand.”


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