The Future of Travel


Reboot Stories with United Airlines CMO and President of MileagePlus Tom O'Toole and Dean DeBiase

As I was settling in on a Concorde flight from London in 1999, sipping a glass of bubbly and gazing out the window at the earth's curvature, as we seemingly chased an endless sunset all the way to New York, I leaned over to my seat mate and said…now this is the future of travel!

Alas, I was wrong. The thrill of flying supersonic speeds almost 60 thousand feet above the earth was truly a truly remarkable experience for me and that's what travelers need today—more remarkable experiences.

When it comes to traveling, sometimes getting to your destination safely is all that matters. Right? Not quite. These days, consumers need more. Top frustrations with air travel include being intermittently disconnected from the Web, having no control over the quality of the entertainment you consume, and most dreadfully, weather delays.

At the latest installation of my Reboot Stories, at the ÄKTA Innovation Series in Chicago, I had a chance to conduct another no-holds-barred interview in front of a live audience,with Tom O’Toole, SVP, Chief Marketing Officer and President, MileagePlus. I engaged Tom in a candid conversation about the “Future of Travel,” specifically how United’s mobile strategies will dramatically change customer experience at home or work, on the plane, and at the airport. Here’s a teaser about what we learned from Tom:

Mobile-Centric Customer Experience
For most of the past decade, the introduction of digital channels to the 100-year-old travel industry has only improved where and how bookings transactions were made. United Airlines is turning the travel experience on its head. What's new are “digitally-enabled, mobile-centric customer experiences.” The Fortune 100 Company is changing how technology is utilized in the customer journey beyond checking-in for flights and selecting seats.

20 Million Native App Users
But this is not just an e-commerce makeover. True – United.com brings in a revenue stream large enough for the platform to be a Fortune 100 Company on its own. But on top of plans to launch a new website design later this year and continuing to engage their 20 million native app users, the company is also reworking their MileagePlus offerings. More importantly, the company is leveraging and scaling the use of technology across mobile devices.

A measure of the impact of mobile on travel? United estimates that bookings made through the United mobile app will exceed that of all its global contact centers this year. User experience testing of a new and improved app is well underway, but here are a few things you can expect:

Key takeaways:
On top of the other "day of travel" features promoted over the 2014 holiday season, travelers using the airline’s mobile application can now receive weather alerts, give travelers the ability to change flights and adjust their itinerary on the go.

The company is utilizing big data to improve customer experiences in a way that overrides traditional silos. They have been able to identify traveler personas, predict potential problems (like tendency to miss connections), and then deliver solutions via the mobile app that improve customer experience.

Entertainment My Way
Tom also gives us a glimpse into the soon-to-launch “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) in-flight entertainment experience. He has sighted surveys that say, high-quality in-flight entertainment drive the most pleasure ratings for traveling consumers—and here I thought it was alcohol. In true UX fashion for some of you that pleasure comes from Wi-Fi, for others it’s movies or live TV , but for me at 35K feet going less the mach speed, it’s my onboard power that makes me happy on this flight today—because without it I could not be typing this. You'll have to watch the video to learn the details, but United has already installed personal device entertainment on over 200 mainline aircraft carriers.

A flight can be just a trip. United would prefer you "Seize the Journey."

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