Move Over Alexa: ‘Ellen’ Is Boeing’s Virtual Cabin Assistant

by Chris Dong

Boeing’s dimmable windows on Boeing 787 Dreamliners were just the beginning of in-flight personalization. Those windows have several settings for darkness and are still a crowd-favorite amongst fliers.

(Personally, I prefer physical window shades. I don’t care for dimmable windows since it seems that more often than not, the crew “locks out” user functionality and forces the cabin into darkness for much of a flight. Give me my views of the wing, please. But I digress.)

Needless to say, Boeing is looking for ways to not just please airline passengers, but also develop new technologies to win over more airlines themselves — their actual customers. Part of that is using the enhancement in the Internet of Things (IoT) world to improve the efficiency of cabin crew.

Introducing “Ellen,” Boeing’s take on a virtual assistant for flight attendants.

What Is Boeing Virtual Assistant Ellen

“Ellen” is named after Ellen Church who was a pilot, registered nurse, and also the world’s first female flight attendant back in 1930. Ellen is being tested by Boeing as a virtual assistant to make the cabin crew’s job a little bit easier. Therefore, this would be more than just the digital screen that flight attendants currently use on newer Boeing aircraft.

Ellen might automatically prepare the cabin for departure and let the crew know if there is something that needs their attention,” John Roberts, Chief Engineer at Boeing


“She could check the overhead bins and doors to ensure they are locked and that all seats are in takeoff position. She could change the cabin lighting, adjust the dimmable window and advise the crew when the cabin is ready for departure.”

boeing virtual assistant

Image by Boeing

Therefore, this new technology is marketed as a way for flight attendants to focus more on attending to customers’ needs instead of manual tasks like changing cabin lighting or something similar.

But What About In Practice?

However, in practice, I could see many airlines who end up using a smart Ellen-like technology to staff fewer cabin crew — since there’s less overall work involved in-flight.

The idea of cost cutting is ever-present in the airline industry, and automation like this could reduce the number of flight attendants needing to work a flight. Even without automation, United announced a flight attendant (and service) cut on some flights that raised eyebrows a few months ago.

Of course, airlines still have to meet the minimum FAA requirements for a crew to passenger ratio. I suppose that may be the bar we are looking at.

See Also: In-Flight Virtual Reality To Make The Passenger Experience Better?

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Christian June 11, 2019 - 11:58 am

I think that the virtual assistant should be called HAL.


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