United launches virtual, on-demand customer service at the airport
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Aside from wearing masks, one of the biggest pandemic-era changes to the travel experience has been the push to minimize touchpoints.
The latest initiative, dubbed “Agent on Demand,” comes from United. This innovation is designed to help passengers get answers to day-of-departure questions without physically queuing for a gate agent.
For now, the new service is available in Chicago (ORD) and Houston (IAH), and it will roll out to United’s other mainland hubs — Denver (DEN), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington D.C. (IAD) — by the end of the year.
There will be large QR codes for customers to scan to access a virtual agent. The web-based platform will then connect travelers to an agent stationed in a remote workspace at the airport and will offer three ways to connect — chat, call or video. While the agents will communicate in English, the chat feature will offer a translation function for more than 100 languages.
Unlike calling the traditional 1-800-UNITED1 (1-800-864-8331) number, these virtual, “on-demand” gate agents are empowered to answer a wide range of timely questions pertaining to seat assignments, upgrade and standby lists, flight status, irregular operation assistance and more.
This will both help minimize the wait for a physical gate agent, while also allowing that agent to focus on other critical pre-departure duties. So long as United doesn’t reduce the number of gate agents assigned to a particular flight, this initiative should be considered a win-win for both employees and passengers.
United confirmed that the wait times to speak to an agent on demand will vary, with calls prioritized based on departure time and urgency of the inquiry.
Only time will tell whether the virtual agent system is practical and useful, but United already piloted the technology at ORD and IAH and says it has received overwhelmingly positive feedback.
This offering joins United’s other recent touchless improvements, including a newly redesigned mobile app and a new platform to select hotels and meal vouchers during flight delays and cancellations.
One of United’s top competitors, American Airlines is also working on touchless initiatives. The Fort Worth-based carrier is trialing an ID verification process that allows you to drop off your checked bags just by scanning your face — no physical paperwork or ID required.
In November, Delta announced a similar initiative. Passengers departing from the carrier’s hub in Detroit (DTW) will soon be able to use their passport number, along with their PreCheck number, to create a virtual ID that will use facial recognition to identify travelers at bag drop, security and during boarding.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.