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United launches virtual, on-demand customer service at the airport

Dec. 08, 2020
3 min read
United Airlines check-in desk
United launches virtual, on-demand customer service at the airport
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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.

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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.

(Photo courtesy of United)

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.

(Photo courtesy of United)

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 image by (Photo by Zach Griff/ The Points Guy)

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases