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United Airlines plots new course to ramp up on mobile

With mobile bookings growing, United Airlines is ramping up its mobile strategy to help drive sales, having introduced redesigned applications earlier this month for iOS and Android and plans in place to upgrade its Web site later this year.

United announced plans last fall for a total revamping of its online and mobile offerings, which came only weeks after it missed estimates for third-quarter earnings, while its competitors experienced record results.

?What we've realized is thumbs don't stretch all that far," said Scott Wilson, United's vice president of merchandising and e-commerce, Chicago.

"If you're holding a phone and the second hand is free, of course you can hit all those things at the top of the screen, but if you're going through the airport, that thumb doesn't go all that far."

Fly the friendly skies
Since the 2008 recession, which impacted the airline industry to a point of financial crisis, many carriers have made serious attempts to rebrand and reclaim customer loyalty, with mobile playing a key role

The online travel market has grown fiercely competitive since then for a global audience that demands diverse and quality options designed around price sensitivity. Digital marketers in this territory are struggling with how to most effectively implement marketing strategies that make every session, page and tap or click count.

First announced in March, the new iOS United app adds the required software to browse and watch video content when connected to the airline's in-flight Wi-Fi service.

The recently updated version enables users to stream more than 150 movies and nearly 200 TV shows for free while in flight.

For now, the service is limited to Airbus A319, Airbus A320, Boeing 747-400 and certain 777-200 aircraft fleets, with plans to expand the backbone across all planes. Prior to boarding, fliers can check the Inflight Amenities tab on's Flight Status & Information Web page to confirm that their flight offers the new personal device entertainment system.

The Android app also became further simplified within the last few weeks, as United added key touch points on the bottom half of the screen so it could be easily accessed by travelers within a crowded terminal and with minimal effort.

Under the radar
A report from digital agency 8 Million stories, which looked into the mobile technology usage in the airline industry, found that 22 percent of the world?s top 50 airliners do not have a mobile optimized site.

Moreover, Forrester Research reported last year at the Mobile University Summit in Chicago that 84 percent of adults say they always keep their mobile device within 10 feet of them, and the average adult looks at their phone 150 times a day. Furthermore, most mobile devices users rely on digital channels to research products, and transact business needs.

Digital consumer trends have made the Internet the fourth channel of conducting business.

In order to better understand the habits of their fliers, United accompanied more than 100 of its customers on their trips.

"They really let us in their homes," Mr. Wilson said.

?Airline representatives observed them shopping for flights online. They watched them pack, rode along in the cab, went through the airport and security, sat next to them on the flight, and caught connections, missed flights and endured delays with them.?

The feedback helped United redesign its current apps, which had a 90 percent usage rate and millions of downloads within the past few years.

The screen on the previous apps was crowded with information and has been replaced with a sleeker look, the top of which is largely blank to reserve space to displaying important details. The bottom features a touch-friendly design with critical activation options including check-in and airport maps.

The new apps address the gaps in continuing the seamless UX from desktop to mobile without losing the consumer along their journey.

The new app design makes attaining flight information a breeze

United will begin making changes to its online site this year, rolling out the renovations in phases, and development with a tablet user in mind.

An updated Web site and app pairing could help United improve performance and profitability, while being more able to intimately tailor and sell its services.

?We are intensely focused on providing customers the digital tools that ensure they have a smoother, faster travel experience," Mr. Wilson said.

?Our new mobile apps and other digital upgrades offer travelers the information they need where and when they need it throughout their journey with United."

Final Take:
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York