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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.

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(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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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
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Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
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
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • 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

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees