United Airlines plans digital push

United Airlines is planning major upgrades to its app over the next few months as part of a digital push.

Earlier this year, usage of the United app matched usage levels (measured by sessions per day) of the airline’s website but functionality on the app is still limited. This will change as United invests heavily in enhancing its app, which in the initial years was viewed primarily as a tool for tracking flights.

The first of several new app features will be rolled out at the end of this month and allow passengers to use the app to change bookings or reservations. Each year, more than 18 million United customers manage their reservations after booking, but currently are only able to make changes using the website.

United is also planning, over the next few months, to start tailoring the app’s home page to where passengers are in their journey. For example, if a passenger is flying the next day the page for printing off the boarding pass will display. If the passenger’s flight is in a few hours, the page with gate info will display when the app is opened.

United customers now make 25 million mobile app downloads per year. Usage of the app should increase significantly as functionality improves.

United is also planning a series of enhancements later this year and next year to the mobile version of its website, which it has not updated for several years. One of the enhancements in the pipeline will provide several foreign language options for international check-in. Currently the only United check-in platform that support more than two languages is the airport kiosk.

United sees digital as “the key enabler to enhance customer experience, help with operational efficiencies and deepen trust”.

United sees digital as “the key enabler to enhance customer experience, help with operational efficiencies and deepen trust”. It does not want to force passengers to call agents when they run into issues and cannot complete a desired task using the app or mobile site. This is now a common occurrence due to a lack of functionality, frustrating passengers and over-utilising agent resources.

Call centre agents often struggle to help as they are unable to see the issue a consumer has encountered using the digital channels. United cites research from ThinkJar which concluded that 84% of consumers are frustrated when an agent does not have the correct and most recent information. United cites research from Pew that found that 83% of millennials and Generation Z prefer self-service options during travel than interacting with staff.

In Nov-2017, United is also rolling out new subscription options for inflight WiFi. Passengers will be offered the option of purchasing monthly and yearly plans. United expects the new options will be particularly popular with corporate passengers as it will make it easier for passengers to expense WiFi costs. United is in the process of upgrading the hardware across its fleet to boost WiFi capacity, which should help persuade more passengers to opt for subscriptions.

Digital engagement has become a focal point throughout the airline industry. As one of the world’s largest airlines, United has to adapt to meet the needs of consumers.

United says that for every customer or trip there is now an average of 11 digital touches. Almost 80% of United passengers now check-in through digital channels and the airline is eager to offer more functionality and personalise the travel experience. It cites research from Digital Trends that indicates that 73% of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their experience more relevant.