- United Airlines, the carrier that runs about 4,500 flights a day to 337 airports worldwide, updated its mobile application to let travelers more easily manage reservations on the go. Customers can now change and cancel flights in the app, add MileagePlus and United Club cards to the Apple Wallet and track checked bags in real time, according to a press release by the company.
- The mobile app — which is used by 800,000 customers every day — still can't handle changes to some reservations purchased through third parties like Expedia or Kayak, but more updates to support these reservations will be added in the coming weeks.
- These updates follow an Oct. 24 announcement saying customers can now access mobile boarding passes for 19 other carriers like Lufthansa and Air Canada in the United app.
With smartphones becoming must-have travel companions for many on-the-go consumers, United is among the airlines that are upgrading their mobile apps to handle a wider range of tasks without the intervention of a live customer service representative, desktop computer or printer. Travel can be stressful enough with long lines at ticket counters, bag checks, increased security and overpriced airport vendors, making even the smallest extra convenience feel like a major reprieve for many consumers.
United's latest move demonstrates a response to consumers' shifting mobile preferences, especially as mobile travel sales in the U.S. are forecast to grow about 17% this year from 2016 to about $76 billion, comprising 40% of all digital travel sales, according to a June 2017 eMarketer study.
Most travelers believe airline apps help the travel experience, according to a study by Helpshift, a developer of in-app customer service software. The study found that 83% of American travelers and 95% of airline loyalty members use airline apps for the convenience and speed they provide. Forty-seven percent of American travelers and 53% of loyalty members said they like seeing up-to-date flight and airport information on their smartphones, while another 45% of travelers and 54% of airline loyalty members say they like being able to check in directly from the app wherever they are.
Meanwhile, United isn't the only airline to enhance its mobile capabilities to boost customer engagement. Several airlines including Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines launched marketing campaigns featuring 360-degree mobile video ads for customers to virtually view first class cabins, tap hot spots to learn details of the aircraft and engage with the airlines' innovative mobile tech.