By Andrea Romano
June 17, 2019
Boeing Cabin Assistant "Ellen"
Credit: Courtesy of Boeing

Your flight could look like something out of science fiction in the near future.

According to Apex, Boeing is working on a new, virtual cabin assistant concept called “Ellen,” which would help assist cabin crews by automating tasks, so crews can focus on passenger needs.

“Ellen might automatically prepare the cabin for departure and let the crew know if there is something that needs their attention,” said Jeff Roberts, a chief engineer at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, at the Aircraft Cabin Innovation Summit, according to Apex. “She could change the cabin lighting, adjust the dimmable window and advise the crew when the cabin is ready for departure.”

“Ellen” is named after Ellen Church, who became the world’s first female cabin flight attendant in 1930, according to Apex. Who better to assist future cabin crews than one of the pioneers of the industry, after all?

At a flight attendant’s verbal command, Ellen could check door or overhead bin locks, make sure seats are in their correct positions, keep control over the cabin temperature, lighting, and humidity, take inventory, verify no personal devices are plugged into seat power, and monitor the cabin for any other possible needs, according to a statement from Boeing.

Boeing Cabin Assistant
Credit: Courtesy of Boeing

And there are some potential uses for travelers too, according to Boeing. Airline apps could work in sync with Ellen, so passengers could potentially link up with the virtual assistant using their personal devices (like smartphones or tablets) and Ellen can tell them about landmarks that they’re flying over while they’re on their trip.

For example, if you’re flying over the Grand Canyon, Ellen can pull up some interesting information about it, even if you can only see it from your plane window.

Accrding to a Boeing spokesperson, travelers may also be able to enjoy a “starry sky” feature, which shows passengers a display of the actual stars the plane is flying under, complete with constellation names and information using LED light technology. This feature could also just show nature scenes that are chosen for the flight or for the airline in general.

Virtual assistants are a new concept, of course. Tech-savvy consumers have been using Siri and Alexa for years at home, and Ellen is a fairly similar concept, though perhaps a bit more advanced. Other areas of the travel industry have begun to use artificial intelligence to enhance customer experience, such as MSC Cruises, which offers a virtual assistant on its ships to get customers anything they require.

Similarly, The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas uses a flirty bot concierge named Rose to assist guests who stay at the hotel.

At the moment, Boeing is still completing market surveys and product development before Ellen will actually be joining people’s flights. However, “Reception has been positive,” Roberts said.

Having Ellen on board could not only make things more pleasant for customers but could also make flights more efficient.

Plus, cabin crews get a chance to feel like they’re in "Star Trek."