A few months ago, while traveling through Cuba, I noticed how locals approach structuring queues. In a country where queues are the cost of doing business and no citizen is exempt from waiting, the community had created a solution. The person who is joining the line is responsible for asking who is the last one and upon joining the queue, is responsible for passing that status on. As a result, a person's position is bookended by the person in front and the person behind through social interaction. In this way, if a person needs to, she can run an errand while maintaining her space in line and the social contract eliminates the stress of keeping her place.

This is in contrast to the way queues in front of the gate desk are structured at most domestic and international airports. Customers are lining up to resolve various requests while missing out on a restful opportunity or interesting things to do and experience at the airport. After qualitative research with frequent fliers, we have determined that these queues are made up of customers who have basic requests such as asking for flight status, flight delays, upgrades and seat changes. Additionally, we have found that for some customers, this may be the 3rd time they queue up after having to check-in and clear security. These requests can be contextually identified as pre-flight when the customer is actively engaged in thinking about their current and upcoming flight experience instead of focusing on their destination. User experience can be improved for customers by decreasing friction, time spent and through informed recommendations at the airport prior to boarding time. This is the insight that led to our idea: flugchen — a platform that hosts a friendly and helpful chatbot that guides customers to quickly resolve pre-fight issues.


What if we could improve the user experience for the airberlin traveler by decreasing the time spent queuing up and increasing the opportunities to do the things they love? Flugchen proposes a chat powered interface that allows the customer to self-service basic pre-flight requests that eliminates the stressful gate queue.

Why now?

There is an overwhelming trend of mobile app fatigue that neither we as designers and developers can ignore — nor can companies and brands. Year over year fewer people are downloading and engaging with mobile applications. While the app economy is not going away, and you should definitely keep your mobile app, we are proposing the addition of a customer engagement channel through the use of a chatbot. What is a chatbot? A chatbot is a simple AI-driven chat program that allows the user to quickly take care of basic requests. In this case, we will be using a combination of low power Bluetooth beacons positioned at the gate, streaming the URL which hosts a chat bot integration with Facebook Messenger (Facebook Messenger has over 1 billion monthly active users worldwide).

We call our chatbot flugchen or translated to English, "little flight".

Use Case and Technology

As the customer arrives at the gate, she is greeted by a physical sign that illustrates how to connect to flugchen and a Bluetooth notification. The Bluetooth notification is transmitted by a low power Bluetooth beacon that is broadcasting a URL to the flugchen site. The site hosts an integration with Facebook Messenger which the user can trigger via the Message us call to action. It is important to note, that while the initial interaction is designed to be only available at the gate due to the physical proximity of the beacon, the chat experience can happen anywhere in the airport.

The flugchen client is written in React.js, the backend on Node.js and deployed on heroku. The flugchen chatbot is written in Javascript(ES6) on top of FB Messenger API, Claudia.js and Xapix API and deployed on AWS Lambda.0 Prototyping was done in Sketch and Invision.

Let's go through a use case! Meet Adi. Adi is 32 and lives with her partner in Brooklyn, NY. She works at a consultancy company, making 90,000 USD, likes to cook and is a huge fan of the local football team. Adi is an occasional and habitual traveler and has signed up for several frequent flier programs. She typically makes airline choices by price but is willing to spend more for a friendlier and stress-free (faster) pre-flight experience. She is less intrigued by the typically offered amenities such as quick boarding or more leg room.

Today Adi is traveling from NYC to Berlin to attend a large technology conference and catch up with some friends. For today's flight, she has chosen a more expensive flight from airberlin over British Airways because she is excited to try the stress-free and seamless airberlin pre-flight experience recommended by a close friend. Adi arrives at the gate at JFK airport in NYC and initiates a chat with flugchen to make a seat change. The algorithm has placed her in an aisle seat but Adi wants to sit next to a window. Flugchen takes a few moments to verify seat availability from the seat chart associated with the flight and finds a place for Adi next to the window and asks for confirmation. Adi is satisfied by the recommendation and confirms. The entire interaction has taken less than 5 minutes.

Because Adi is typically afraid of missing her flight, she prefers to arrive at the airport early. Today she is 2 hours early and as a result, she had to skip lunch. Adi is hungry. She initiates a chat with flugchen and asks for recommendations for food at the airport. Flugchen is connected to Adi's airberlin profile and is aware of her dietary requests input in the flight and recommends a Zagat rated vegetarian restaurant a few gates down.
Adi reads several reviews and decides to patronize the restaurant. Adi is not worried about missing the flight because flugchen has promised to send a reminder 15 minutes prior to boarding. Flugchen can also push notifications in case of cancellations, gate changes or other unforeseen circumstances.

Adi finishes her meal and chats flugchen for her flight's status. The flight is on-time and begins boarding in a few minutes. Calmly Adi proceeds to the gate to board. Adi is happy with her pre-flight experience and as she buckles her seat belt and prepares for lift off, she excitedly looks forward to the next few days in Berlin.


For airberlin, the benefit is an additional customer engagement channel with analytics providing a deeper understanding of what customers are typically looking for or requesting in this context: physically at the gate. From an HR perspective, this will free up gate employees to focus on providing a superior gate experience, one of speedy, friendly and efficient boarding.

For airberlin Business, Strategy and Customer Experience teams, the resulting customer engagement data with flugchen can inform insights and opportunities that enable informed human-centered business decisions with a certain degree of risk mitigation.

For the airport and airport businesses, this provides a centralized communication channel to airberlin travelers with bespoke recommendations for activities in the airport.

For the airberlin customer, this provides a familiar chat interface enabling clear communication with the airline and the reduction of the high friction currently associated with resolving simple requests. The customer now has the freedom to explore the airport amenities, relax and ultimately enjoy their journey to their final destination.

The flugchen Team Alex and Ali

Because the app is in testing mode and is pending approval from Facebook, you will need to use our testing facebook account to create an active session. Simply use the credentials below to sign in and then follow the link to the app. This limitation will be gone once the app is approved

Facebook credentials Username Password mybestpassword

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