For Online E-newspaper
The East African : Jan 21st 2017
II MAGAZINE FREQUENT FLYER GOING DIGITAL Planning a vacation? Try Chatbot Need to book a hotel on the go, or a friendly dinner recommendation while exploring a new city? There’s a bot for that. Now, the booking services Expedia, Kayak, Skyscanner and many others are allowing potential customers to seek recommendations on hotel rooms and flights and book them via Facebook Messenger. Here is what three of the more interesting options have to offer so far: SnapTravel SnapTravel aims to find you a hotel based on your budget and preferences via SMS, Facebook Messenger or Slack. It uses a combination of artificial and human intelligence to search Expedia, Priceline and more than 100 other sites for the best deal, and claims to have “secret deals” of its own. The bot first asks for your travel city and dates, whether you have a specific hotel brand in mind and if you have any neighbourhood preferences in the city. I texted SnapTravel while I was looking to book a few nights in my hometown, Binghamton, New York, during Thanksgiving week. Based on my initial responses, SnapTravel gave me a cost estimate for three- and four-star hotels in the area. I was sent what it deemed my four best options, with photos and links to more details and booking options for each hotel, a link to a map with more options, and I was asked if I wanted to be put in touch with one of its travel agents (who can offer some human insight). The entire process from start to finish took 16 minutes. Hello Hipmunk A spinoff from the Hipmunk booking website and smartphone app, Hello Hipmunk offers up a cute chipmunk to help you book travel from Facebook Messenger, Slack or Skype. Just be careful what you ask for. You will need to be specific if you want to get relevant results. I used Messenger to converse with Hipmunk, and before I had a chance to say hello, the critter asked me what airport I usually fly from. I said La Guardia, assuming it would understand that I meant La Guardia Airport in New York City. But it came back with: “Looks like you’re planning a getaway from Laguardia, Spain.” Not really there. Next I tried: “I need a flight from New York to Chicago, leaving tomorrow and coming back on October 9.” That seemed to do it. Pana For the business traveller, there is Pana, which, like SnapTravel, combines artificial and human intelligence to plan your trip. The human factor seems to play a more significant role than it did with the other bots I tried. You don’t need to be a business traveller to benefit, but you do need to be a frequent-enough traveller to justify the cost: $49 per month ($499 annually) for its “concierge” plan. But there is a seven-day free trial to start. Pana gives you three ways to start: through email, SMS or its app. I chose SMS and received an introductory hello - New York Times The EastAfrican JANUARY 21ò27,2017 STRICT GUIDELINES: Most airline passenger handling procedures require that if troubleshooting exceeds a certain time, passengers must leave the aircraft and return to the waiting lounge until the aircraft is ready for boarding SAFETY: NO SMALL TECHNICAL HITCH Michael Otieno, Special Correspondent E arlier this week I noticed an oil leak from my car. To avoid an impending breakdown, my first stop was the nearest garage. It was nothing compared with my regular service centre but I figured they could at least identify and plug the leak with ease. After a preliminary examination of the car, each of the three mechanics had their own gut feeling as to the cause of the leak. The guesswork and theories they all had were least to say, petrifying. I knew it was time to get my car to safety when the leader of the pack returned with a final verdict that the car engine needed to be taken apart. As I sped off, one thought came to mind; where would we be if aircraft technicians acted on gut feelings whenever a technical problem was reported? You probably are one of those passen- gers who protest and even get agitated when a flight is delayed due to a technical problem. What’s even more infuriating to many travellers is that after the “small technical problem” is noted and announced, it almost always takes quite a bit of time to get airborne. In fact, most passengers get rightly incensed when a technical problem is announced mid-flight and the aircraft has to return to base. Unknown to many in the cabin, even in the absence of technical faults, there are rigorous mandatory pre-flight checks that are usually carried out by the flight crew before each flight. When any anomaly is noted during such checks, laid down procedures as per aircraft manufacturer manuals and airline quality procedures are followed to troubleshoot and address the problem. There are certain preflight anomalies that are usually addressed by airline technical crew while passengers are on board but there are those that require that passengers disembark. Most airline passenger handling pro- cedures require that if troubleshooting exceeds a certain time, passengers must leave the aircraft and return to the waiting lounge until the aircraft is ready for boarding. Unlike other industries, airlines will only use licensed maintenance engineers to ensure not only that the aircraft is safe for the next flight but also to certify that all systems are in the expected state of maintenance. Passengers need to realise that if techni- cal problems are noted mid-flight, several factors lead to the decision to return the aircraft to the point of origin of flight. Regular maintenance is done on aircraft to troubleshoot and forestall emergencies. Picture: File Some of these factors could include availability of technically able engineers and equipment at the destination to solve the problem and likelihood of aircraft being grounded at destination due to local safety procedures. After the technical problem on the aircraft is solved, a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer is required to “sign off” a Certificate of Release to Service — which is a legal statement taking full responsibility for the works done. Such licensed engineers, are not just trained and specialised in various aspects of aircraft maintenance but also specifically certified on the aircraft type. Hence a licensed Boeing 737-800 avion- ics engineer will not automatically work on and certify a similar problem on a Bombardier Q-400 unless he or she is trained and type rated on both aircraft types. But even in the absence of technical faults and problems, each aircraft once released from the assembly line is immediately put under a manufacturer-approved maintenance programme. Such a programme will require that air- craft checks are conducted strictly within stipulated periods and certain aircraft parts, even where no fault is detected, are replaced as per the manufacturer’s manual. Passengers should know that mainte- nance engineers are the gatekeepers of safety in an airline and play a significant role in determining smooth and continued flight operations as they must be ready for both planned and ad hoc technical issues around the aircraft. Next time your flight is delayed due to a possible technical problem, before lashing out at the airline, try to appreciate that they, at the very least, have procedures in place that lead to early detection. Remember also that licensed aircraft maintenance engineers may be the only thing standing between you and a plane crash. Michael Otieno is an aviation consultant based in Nairobi. Twitter: @pmykee143, Email: email@example.com.
Jan 14th 2017
Jan 28th 2017