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!
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees