Skift Take

Some passengers want to talk to people. Some do not. United Airlines wants make sure they all have a choice.

United Airlines is still giving every single passenger an alcohol wipe as they enter the airplane. During the pandemic, it was for a specific reason. Now, that reason has shifted a bit. 

“It’s a touch point. Our flight attendants greet every single customer now,” said Linda Jojo, chief customer officer for United Airlines.

“We may not have a wipe forever. There may be something a little more fun coming at some point. But I don’t think we’ll ever take away that touch point at the end of the jet bridge.”

That’s one of the ways United is working to make the guest experience more intimate and personalized, as Jojo described during the Skift Aviation Forum, held Wednesday at the Statler Hotel in downtown Dallas. Much of the personalization in other areas is coming through digital innovation. 

“We are connecting the digital and the physical experience, and there’s a huge opportunity there to make for a better experience,” Jojo told Editor-at-Large Brian Sumers. 

With the huge number of hires happening over the next year, it’s a good time to innovate and train for those modernized services, she said. 

“We’ll hire 15,000 people this year, 15,000 people next year,” she said.  

One of the experiences ripe for innovation is meal time. 

United already has a customer app that knows passengers’ birthdays and tracks their previous flights. Now, passengers can pre-order meals through that app, too. The company will be feeding that customer data through analytics engines. That allows United to more easily handle special requests, but it also gives the company a better idea of what people generally want. 

“We’ll have a better chance of putting that on the plane, which means less food waste,” Jojo said. “If you get your second choice, you may actually eat it or maybe eat half of it. But we want to know what your first choice was so that we can start preparing that.”

It probably won’t get super specific, but the airline will know how tastes change based on the day, the time, the market, and more. 

For example: “They do eat different things coming home from Las Vegas that they do going to Las Vegas.” 

United is working to digitize much of the passenger experience, starting with self-service in the airport. About 25 percent of interactions now happen through the app chat function. Or, if customers prefer talking to people, they can use a QR code to connect with an agent live. United is also experimenting with biometrics in international travel and in lobbies. 

“It’s really about giving customers choice,” Jojo said.

Throughout all of it, United is analyzing data to determine if innovations are working well or not. The use of tablets to speak with an agent in a noisy airport lobby, for example, did not work. 

“We’re doing a lot of innovation at our gates right now with technology, and we’re watching how people are using it.”

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Tags: airlines, airports, coronavirus recovery, customer experience, hiring, saf2022, skift live, transportation, travel technology, united airlines

Photo credit: Linda Jojo (left), chief customer officer for United Airlines, in discussion with Brian Sumers, editor at large for Skift, at Skift Aviation Forum in Dallas. Dylan Pacholek / Skift

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