Woman holding a smartphone at a table

How a Saudi airline is making travel easier and smoother with AI and low-code tools

Saudia, a flag carrier airline of Saudi Arabia, is embracing modern technologies, from AI to cloud to low-code tools, to make travel easier and smoother in a transformation that supports the country’s goals of increasing tourism and becoming a global aviation leader.

One place where Saudia is modernizing its behind-the-scenes work is in departures. Until recently, front-line supervisors tracked the performance of ground crews with traditional pen and paper. They took manual notes on the punctuality of gate openings and amount of time to board passengers, and emailed reports, filling up inboxes with more than 100 messages a day. The laborious tracking method made it hard to monitor and improve tasks.

When the airline wanted to digitize the process with a new app, it tapped an early-career employee to build it. Sana Noorwali, an analytics specialist who usually worked on a revenue dashboard, had programming experience but had never built an operations app before. She jumped at the chance to help supervisors work more efficiently.

Hands holding a smartphone
An app developed by a Saudia employee helps the airline manage tasks for flight departures. Photo by Moayyed Almizyen for Microsoft.

Using Microsoft Power Platform, a toolkit for developers with little or no coding experience, Noorwali quickly delivered a mobile app that now helps supervisors save time by more easily troubleshooting flight delays and customer feedback, all while managing thousands of departures at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia.

“What I’m hearing from supervisors is that it’s an eye-opener to the areas that need improvement,” said Noorwali.

The app is just one example of Saudia’s digital transformation, from creating a new virtual customer assistant and travel companion with Azure OpenAI Service to streamlining operations with Azure cloud services and Power Platform, said Abdulgader Attiah, Saudia’s chief data officer. The transformation is a pillar of a rebranding strategy that includes new services, colors, uniforms and plans to expand the company’s 140-aircraft fleet and list of more than 100 destinations.

“The main reason for our digital transformation is to power our commitment to deliver great experiences throughout our customers’ journey,” Attiah said. “Customer experience is at the heart of it.”

The AI virtual assistant announced a few weeks ago will provide a personalized, chat-based service for customers researching, planning and booking travel. Customers will be able to ask the app for travel ideas — such as a family trip on a defined budget in Europe with mountains and a 20 degrees-Celsius climate — and the app will return suggestions and flights in a seamless experience, Attiah said. Scheduled for release this year, the app will also be able to identify customers and connect them to a live agent if needed.

Seated man wearing a traditional keffiyeh
Abdulgader Attiah, Saudia chief data officer. Photo by Moayyed Almizyen for Microsoft.

“Every single person can have their own personal assistant and personalize their travel with their unique asks,” he said. “That’s really powerful.”

With Power Platform, Saudia is advancing innovation among employees, who have built thousands of solutions with the low-code and no-code tools to improve business and operations, Attiah said. The solutions include the company’s 10 most used apps.

Noorwali’s app gives departures supervisors a digital checklist that helps them track tasks more efficiently and consistently. It also connects the data in their reports to a Power BI dashboard for a clear, recorded view of incidents and trends. That helps managers analyze flight reports instead of digging through emails and disparate systems.

“By using the time in a better way, we can focus on important things that might have been skipped because of the headache of the work,” said Moayyed Almizyen, a supervisor who managed development of the new system. “The ultimate goal is the guest experience.”

Woman holding a smartphone
Sana Noorwali, an analytics specialist at Saudia, holds a smartphone with the app she created on the screen. Photo by Moayyed Almizyen for Microsoft.

For Noorwali, building the app was a fun way to contribute to Saudia’s transformation. She liked working with airport supervisors to learn about their challenges and building a tool that helps make their jobs easier. She has since heard that supervisors in arrivals and baggage handling want a similar app.

She found that Power Platform’s app-building and automating tools appealed to her love of creativity and problem-solving, and she plans to continue building more IT tools that help fellow employees.

“Programming is fun because it allows me to have an impact and brings me joy when I help solve problems,” she said.

Top photo: Sana Noorwali, an analytics specialist at Saudia, created an app to help track departures. Photo by Moayyed Almizyen for Microsoft.