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July 21, 2015

Flying the friendly skies: Cortana makes air travel easier

I put Cortana—recently updated to make air travel more enjoyable– through her paces on a recent weekend jaunt in Los Angeles. Here’s my report.

Just in time for summer vacation, Cortana, your personal assistant on your Lumia or other device with Windows Phone 8.1, just got better.

Microsoft just updated Cortana (available in select markets) so she can remind you when to check in to your flight, inform you of upcoming trips (“Cortana, show me my trips”), or tell you about one specific round-trip flight (“Show me my flights to Seattle in July with United Airlines”). Learn more about this feature on the Bing Blogs.


This new feature, along with her tried and true skills of finding well-reviewed restaurants and giving you directions and reminding me about important information, made Cortana very useful to me on a trip last weekend to Los Angeles, my hometown.

Air travel: My flight from the San Francisco area to Los Angeles was scheduled to depart on Friday around 6:30 p.m. Many airlines allow you to check into a flight 24 hours before departure. But on Friday morning, I had completely forgotten to do so until Cortana showed me (with just a glance at my Start screen), that I could check in online. She also gave me my flight’s specific terminal and gate.


I tapped the check-in link on my Start screen, up popped my airline’s check-in page. Easy peasy. Cortana also informed me that my flight was scheduled to arrive a few minutes early, right after 8 p.m.—enough time for me to snag a rental car and meet friends for a late evening meal.

Getting from here to there. If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles International Airport, you know that it’s hemmed in by the Pacific on the west and several freeways to the east and south. Which way would be the fastest to get to dinner downtown?

I asked Cortana (“Give me directions to Church and State”), and she suggested a route I’ve never taken, through surface streets until I hit the 10 freeway. I was skeptical at first, but it was a good call—I found out later from late-arriving friends that traffic was backed up for miles on another freeway.

Cortana, where should I eat? The next night, I was scheduled to stay with friends in a neighborhood I didn’t know well. Since I wouldn’t get to their house until late in the day, I asked Cortana where I should get a bite to eat (“What’s a good vegetarian place in Silver Lake?”).

She came up with a restaurant that got four-star reviews on Yelp. Cortana gave me the eatery’s address and phone number as well as map and a button that I could tap for directions. Done.

After dinner (thumbs-up!), I asked her for directions to my friend’s house. It turned out to be less than a mile away. Nicely done, Cortana.

Air travel, part deux: Sunday morning, and once again, I had forgotten to check in to a flight, this time the one heading back to San Francisco.


Cortana showed an image of an airplane on my Lumia’s Start screen (“hint, hint” she seemed to be saying). After a few taps, I was checked in for my flight that evening. I then pinned my boarding pass to my Start screen so I didn’t have to stop at the airline ticket counter to print one out.

When my plane touched down in northern California, my Lumia emitted a small harmonic chime. Who or what just notified me? After threading my way through the crowds at my arrival gate, I looked at my phone.

It was Cortana, reminding me that I’d parked my car in airport long-term parking, Lot C. Good thinking, Cortana. I walked to the airport exit, the double doors whooshing open silently before me. Then I stepped into the crisp night air and headed home.

Have you enlisted Cortana to make travel easier for you? Try out her new flight functionality and let us know what you think!