You can order in-flight food, upload your passport. New airline app does it all.

Will Kreznick

Airline apps aren’t a new thing. Most airlines offer apps to make boarding and checking-in at the airport into a seamless process, especially after the coronavirus pandemic where less human contact is better. Others help with flight booking and ticketing. And many third parties offer apps to help travelers find […]

Airline apps aren’t a new thing. Most airlines offer apps to make boarding and checking-in at the airport into a seamless process, especially after the coronavirus pandemic where less human contact is better.

Others help with flight booking and ticketing. And many third parties offer apps to help travelers find the best fight price.

But a new app that is part of the “United Next” program that was announced on June 29 might be the app that does it all, from pre-ordering meals to uploading passport and vaccination info to learning about the latest pandemic restrictions.

United Airlines new app has lots of company, with 39 official airline apps offered on Google Play and probably double the number of third party apps.

Got a problem? This app will also hook travelers up with an “agent on demand” in the airport to help.

“All these features (Agent on Demand and Travel-Ready Center) are fully integrated into United’s award-winning mobile app and United.com, which is a first among airlines and give customers everything they need to know to navigate evolving COVID-19 travel restrictions all in one place,” said Robert Einhorn, a United spokesman.

Agent on demand allows passengers to get help from a live United agent by video, text or chat. These are actual agents in the airport and not people working in an off-shore call center, said Maria Walter, a United spokeswoman, who demonstrated the app at a June 29 event at Newark Airport.

Demand is likely to increase as the airline announced the addition of 150 flights this fall, including 25 daily flights from New York/Newark to Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Florida, Savannah, Georgia and Barbados. All airlines are reporting steady increases in leisure travel as it rebounds from pandemic lows.

“The idea is not to have to stand in line,” Walter said about the app. “You can access the app from your living room.”

The Travel-Ready feature is beneficial for those flying internationally. It unites many functions and stores documents and information in one place.

“The hardest thing is understanding what you need for international travel. Every location is different,” said Anthony Cozzi, United director of digital products. “We take the guess work out.”

A demonstration of United Airlines new Travel-Ready feature at Newark Airport reminds a traveler they need to do several tasks before traveling to Paris.

Travelers can upload their information, such as rapid COVID-19 test results, vaccination information, entry forms for a particular country, passport and visa information to the Travel-Ready center and have it validated, saving time in the airport, he said. The app also tells travelers what tests are required to enter a country and allows them to schedule a rapid COVID test.

The closest resource that offers some similar functions is the Airports Council International’s Check and Fly app, available on an app or online. It provides health and safety information for 300 airports.

A redesign also added check-in on the app to provide a one-stop experience, he said.

Hungry? The app has a meal ordering function which can be done pre-flight or on-board the aircraft. Obviously, pre-ordering guarantees the meal of your choice. But the app also helps flight attendants fill orders and get the correct meal to the right seat, Walter said.

Customers who buy food and beverages on the plane can pay with a contactless tap and pay system, provided they’ve uploaded credit or debit card information.

Missing a connecting flight due to delay or other issues is one of the unavoidable, but frustrating parts of air travel. United’s connection saver analyzes weather conditions that could delay one flight, how many passengers are on board who have a connecting flight and if it is possible to briefly hold that flight. If there are strong headwinds, delaying one flight, Connection saver helps officials decide if a connection flight can take off five minutes later, she said.

“We are the only airline doing this,” Walter said. “It’s meaningful for (travelers on) the last flight of the day.”

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Larry Higgs may be reached at [email protected].

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