When an ash cloud caused travel chaos across Europe seven years ago, KLM’S digital response earnt us a reputation as ‘the social media airline’.

We now want to use technology to become Europe’s most customer-centric carrier. As our CEO told me recently, IT is no longer just supporting our business, it is our business.

By investing in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, we intend to be at the forefront of the digital revolution.



Volcanic chatbots

KLM’s first foray into putting technology at the heart of the customer experience came in response to a crisis.

Like many airlines around the world, when the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, erupted in April 2010 we were forced to cancel and delay countless flights.

Our employees at airports and call centers were inundated with questions from concerned passengers.

However, unlike most airlines, we used our digital expertise to create a social media-based solution. One of our quick-thinking developers designed automated Twitter bots that provided information on flights and missing luggage.

The system, which was later also rolled out on Facebook, would find the required information and post it back to the specific customer.

The response from passengers was extremely positive and we were soon given the nickname of ‘the social media airline’. This is when we started to think differently about the awesome power of tech.


Using AI to predict the future

Our digital awakening has sparked a number of significant investment projects in the field of AI.

An initial step was to unveil an Amazon Alexa voice recognition installation at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. This keeps passengers informed while they wait to board their flights.

AI is also being used to assist customers before they arrive at the airport. The technology generates answers for those contacting our call centers. Not only that, it can learn from human operators who might change an answer before it is given to a customer.

We are now exploring ways we can use AI to predict what a customer’s next booking will be.

While this proposition is in its early stages, we hope to soon be able to connect to social media so we can make personalized offers. For example, we might identify a customer who went to a grand prix last year and offer them a deal on flights to an upcoming grand prix location.

Engineering and maintenance is another important area in terms of AI investment.

Modern aircraft are basically flying computers. In an A380 there are 25,000 sensors that deliver data, while a Boeing 787 churns out about 500GB of data on an average flight. The key is to ensure this data does not go to waste.

We are building systems that will be able to predict when an aircraft will require maintenance work. Not only will this help us reduce operating costs, it will also improve our service to customers by minimizing delays.



Finding the right tech partner

We intend to use digital solutions to realize our ambition of becoming the most customer-centric airline in the world. It is imperative our technology partner can support us in achieving this goal.

Fortunately, we have found the perfect partner in Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

The advice provided by TCS has led us to make sound investments that will help us deliver our technology strategy. Through this we have been able to build application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable us to connect with the full range of social platforms.

We have around 300 TCS employees embedded within our organization. These specialist staff are absolutely crucial in sparking innovation and keeping us up to date on emerging technologies.

Together with TCS, we have implemented an agile way of working that has enabled our business to really take off.


By Jos Kerssens, VP, Development Passenger Business, KLM