United Airlines is rolling out several new services, developed both in-house and with industry partners, to tackle some persistent pain points in the air travel experience.
As outlined by executives at the carrier’s recent Flight Plan 2020 confab in Chicago, the airline has invested in a variety of measures to improve its reputation for reliability and for customer service – both areas in which the airline had come under criticism in recent years.
Among the developments touted by the airline are the following.
Luggage shipping to Marriott hotels in London
Effective Nov. 1, customers flying in United’s premium Polaris class from Newark to London Heathrow can have their bags shipped straight to a Marriott property in the British capital, free of charge. Calling it an industry first, United said the service will let fliers drop their bags at a special desk as soon as they clear immigration and customers in London, and the luggage will be sent to one of five hotels under the Marriott banner.
Andrew Nocella, the airline’s chief commercial officer, noted that the route between the New York area and London is one of the busiest in the world, and it will get even busier next March when the carrier plans to add a sixth daily flight on its marquee run. The airline is also looking at expanding the baggage shipping service to other markets beyond London.
Clear biometric partnership
The carrier has teamed with Clear, the privately-run company that uses biometric verification, like a fingerprint or iris scan, to check identity and speed travelers through the security process. Members of United’s Mileage Plus awards plan can enroll in Clear for free or for a substantial discount, depending on status – the standard fee is $179 a year – and United said it’s working with Clear on biometric measures to speed up check-in and other rituals at its main hubs in Houston, Newark, and elsewhere. Clear is currently available at 30 U.S. airports.
Jet lag management tool
United is joining with Timeshifter, an app developed with experts at Harvard Medical School and NASA, that helps fliers beat jet lag by closely monitoring their sleeping habits. It will be offering a free trial to all passengers, plus a free or reduced rate subscription to the service, which normally costs $24.99 a year, for Mileage Plus members.
The airline has created a tool called ConnectionSaver, which is designed to cut down on missed connections by identifying flights that can be held at the gate for 10 minutes to await passengers from another flight, without sacrificing on-time arrivals. Travelers with connecting flights are updated via the airline’s app and eventually will have an indoor GPS network to help guide them through the airport and to their departure gate. The airline said that more than 50,000 connections have been “saved” since it started phasing in the tool earlier this year.
Improved gate design and bin space
Aware that crowded airport gates can feel like a mosh pit, United is testing a new type of layout that maximizes space with new seating configurations, plus added power outlets for recharging devices. And to cut down on another irritant in the boarding process – the rush to shove carry-ons into limited overhead bin space – the carrier is embarking on a plan to increase storage space with the goal of accommodating “every single passenger” by 2023, putting an end to the gate-checked bag shuffle.