Rise of the flight status Twitterbots

By John Walton, October 21 2011
Rise of the flight status Twitterbots

Tired of waiting on hold to your airline, navigating through the automated response maze or click-click-clicking the online flight status calendar to check if your flight is on time, delayed or even -- gulp -- cancelled?

Virgin Atlantic could have the answer: a flight status Twitter bot (short for "robot") which lets you check flight status with a single, one-line tweet.

It's a boon for tech-savvy business travellers, especially as it's easier to fire off a Twitter enquiry on your smartphone or iPad compared to Web browsing, which remains a frustrating experience on many mobile devices.

Twitter bots are automated Twitter accounts: you tweet a question to it, and it answers you. That's as complicated as it gets.

The technology behind the bot is smart enough to recognise details such as a flight number, departure time and airport code, then feed these into the airline's own system and send you a reply with the relevant details.

Here's the Virgin Atlantic Twitter bot in action.

Tweet your flight number and departure date to Virgin Atlantic's flight status Twitter bot account, which is @VAAInfo. (We tweeted from our account, and if you're not following us already then you should be. Really.)

For most flights, the bot will reply to you immediately with the flight schedule and status.

If, like Sydney flights, it's a multi-leg journey, the bot tells you to include the departure airport:

So we added the three-letter airport code to the end of our tweet (LHR for London Heathrow, HKG for Hong Kong, SYD for Sydney, and so on):

And voilà! The latest flight schedule information, in typical chirpy Virgin Atlantic style:

If the flight you're after is still in the air (a colleague or family member returning from abroad, say), you'll get up-to-the-minute flight status -- like for the London-Hong Kong leg:

All from your phone -- or, if you have an iPhone 4S or Android phone with decent voice recognition software, without even having to type.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work for codeshare flights -- for example, Virgin Atlantic codeshares with Virgin Australia on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne, flight VS5837 (which is Virgin Australia flight DJ837 too).

But the airlines' systems aren't integrated enough for that to work:

So there's no tweetbot yet for Australian domestic flights, but that might change.

A Virgin Australia spokeswoman told Australian Business Traveller: "We're looking at it, but we have nothing to announce at this stage."

What do you reckon: useful tool, or pointless gimmick? Share your thoughts with other AusBT readers in the comments section below.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

20 Oct 2011

Total posts 77

Virgin Australia's email service works well, right down to the gate info. Email (eg) Hobart to Sydney today in the subject line to [email protected]

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