By Ken Hegan for MSN

Photo-2Would you rather talk than type?

Then you’ll like this robo-gadget.

A budget travel search engine, CheapAir.com, has released a new voice-activated flight search app. The app – also called CheapAir — uses the Siri voice robot built into your iPhone (OS 4S and higher) or iPad 3.

So now you can find seat sales simply by yelling at a robot lady.

Siri listens to your request and converts your speech into text. Then the app finds matching results from hundreds of airlines (apparently it sifts through 25 million fares a day).

All without you filling out a search form.

Here’s how it works:

1) Download the CheapAir app

2) Make sure Siri’s on. Grab your iPhone, go to Settings, then General, then find Siri and turn her on.

3) Open the app. Admire the old-fashioned cartoon propeller plane. Then click on the green ‘Start Your Search’ button.

Robocop4) A window opens up that reads “Tell us the cities and dates of your trip… e.g. Detroit to Chicago on September 5 September 7 for 2 people”. Given that Detroit’s just plunged into bankruptcy (as foretold in the visionary, Oscar-overlooked RoboCop), I can see why tons of people want to flee Detroit right now.

5) Click on the microphone button at the bottom of your keyboard.

6) When the big purple microphone icon appears, start talking! Tell Siri your hopes and dreams but mostly your specific flight request.

7) Tell you what, I’ll go first. I want to fly to L.A. next month so I can swim in the rooftop pool of the London West Hollywood hotel (more on that in a future column). So I held the iPhone close to my eager mouth and said, “Vancouver to Los Angeles on August 9 to August 11 for 2 people.”

8) Siri then converted my speech into text. But it seems I have a lisp nobody’s ever told me about. Instead of ‘Vancouver’, Siri thought I said “Thank Über”. I’m sure that’s important info for someone, somewhere, but not me.

9) Took a couple of attempts but eventually Siri translated my whisky-soaked grunts into the correct flight search terms. Satisfied, I clicked Done, then the app quickly found me dozens of roundtrip flights for two.

10) The ticket prices range from a decent $683.90 on WestJet to a preposterous $2,084.30 via United and Air Canada. For that kind of dough, I expect free use of an Emotional Support Monkey.

Screenshot11) I clicked on the cheapest flight, then the search engine laid out the itinerary for my approval. Oh, and I liked this: the search engine even warns you about United’s jerky baggage fees (1st checked bag: $25, 2nd checked bag: $35).

12) Happy with your intinerary? Great! Book it with a credit card and, ta-dah, Bob’s your uncle.

You’ve secured an international flight to one of North America’s coolest cities and you didn’t have to fill out a search form. The app also tells you which flights have WiFi, personal video monitors or live TV.

It’s never been easier to blow a ton of cash on impromptu vacations. I predict the CheapAir app will be a huge hit with spontaneous, clear speaking, high-functioning, go-getting, late-night alcoholic shopping addicts. Or just people who like efficiency and order (I’m talking to you, RoboCop).

I asked CheapAir’s CEO Jeff Klee about his app.

“We want to make it easy to check flights while out with friends, walking to the subway, or wherever our customers are,” he said.

Klee added, “CheapAir was the first travel site to let people search for fares using natural language, we were the first to show which in-flight amenities are on every flight, and now we’ve launched the first voice-activated iPhone app.”

What do you think of his app? Brilliant idea, or is this yet another harbinger of how robots will rise up, impoverish us, and swiftly destroy us all?

— Ken Hegan

Read all Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan

Advertisements