7 Things United Shared During the Morning Session of Media Day

I’m at United’s Media Day in Chicago and the morning session gave me seven key takeaways, from new overhead bins to free baggage delivery to Marriott hotel rooms and a new member-driven charity program in MileagepPlus.

  1. ConnectionSaver is possible because of schedule padding. United has a program to hold planes for connecting passengers where it won’t cause system or other passenger delays. It’s called ConnectionSaver and they’re rolling it out to their hubs. United’s Executive Vice President Greg Hart explained that they’re able to do this because 25% of their flights every day are expected to arrive 10 minutes early. So holding plenty of flights still allows for on time arrivals.

  2. New 3D views of the aircraft are rolling as as part of united.com seat maps. These begin over the coming weekend for the CRJ-550, but will roll out to other aircraft “rapidly through the end of the year.” Will views from each seat that can rotate around the plane replace SeatGuru?

  3. Air Traffic Control reform is dead. United says they suffer from air traffic control delays more than other airlines because of their Newark, San Francisco, and Chicago hubs. I asked Greg Hart what are they doing to push reform of the FAA’s ATO, since much of the rest of the world (such as NavCanada) are more efficient. His answer was they’re partnering with FAA, implementing ADS-B, and adopting other aircraft tech. In other words they’ve given up on air traffic control reform.

  4. The answer to the environmental impact of flying has to come from new technology. United launched a $40 million investment vehicle to support technology companies developing sources of fuel that drive towards carbon neutrality.

  5. United will now deliver Newark – London Heathrow business class passenger bags to Marriott hotels in London. Marriott will deliver into the guest room. This will be expanded to other markets.

  6. By 2023 United will retrofit over 80% of their mainline fleet to have larger overhead bins, like Alaska and American are offering. A 1:1 ratio of passengers to space for carry on bags mostly ends gate checking of luggage (which also reduces delays). Most planes getting new bins will get seat power if they don’t already have it. Planes that are being retired won’t get new bins or fill in missing power.

  7. United now lets qualifies charities register for crowdsourced fundarising campaigns to raise MileagePlus miles. These 28 day campaigns may meet a charity’s goals – they get the miles – while failed campaigns return miles to customers. Donations are no longer limited to a curated set of the airline’s causes.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So if UA really believes #3 they’ll soon abandon those hubs, right? If not then their logic is messed up.

  2. @Jim Baround – Schedule padding is when flight time estimates are exaggerated to allow for some minor mishaps along the way and still report on time performance.

  3. The hotel/baggage partnership is an interesting idea, but what would really make it great is if you didn’t even have to stop to pick up your bags… just skip baggage claim and head into the city. Seems like with this program you get your bags first, go through customs, then drop off your bags with United afterward.

    I know, customs etc… but still, imagine just getting off the plane and going about your day, not having to even go to baggage claim, and then when you check into your hotel, your bags are already in your room. Maybe an opportunity for Global Entry, Registered Traveller, Clear, etc to get involved and clear the customs/logistical hurdle?

  4. Justin: has it ever dawned on you that what IF your bags don’t arrive? What IF things get stolen from your bags? And then when a report has to be filed, you head into the city and go about your day and come back to your hotel room at 11 pm when your flight arrived at 9 am. How does one account for the 8 to potential 15 hour in time discrepancy?

  5. Gary,

    With regard to #3. You want to compare EWR and SFO to the rest of the world, and you simply can’t do that. The biggest issues with the delays at those airports have little to do with how the tin gets pushed (or who does it) and a lot to do with the layout of the airport runways and the local weather patterns. EWR, for example, publishes a maximum arrival rate of 48 aircraft per hour, but that’s dependent on winds allowing arrivals to runway 11. A more typical arrival rate is 40 an hour. If United schedules 45 arrivals per hour when the airport is most likely only able to handle 40, delays will ensue. The only thing the FAA can do is slot restrict the airport, and who likes that?

    Likewise, SFO’s capacity is all over the map due to the closely spaced parallel runways and the fog problems it has. Europe has no analogous airport to compare/contrast operations with.

    ORD’s delays are improving. The airport has been undergoing a “modernization” program to reduce the complexity of the airport configuration. When the modernization is completed, it will primarily be an all-parallel operational, similar to LAX, ATL, CDG, and LHR.

    The crossing runway complexity matters, and does add to flight delay. Pilots ultimately get to choose which runways they land on; the FAA doesn’t dictate them. So pilots will often choose to land on a runway with the smallest crosswind component, even if it creates headaches for ATC and creates significant delay while ATC is dealing with these headaches. One way to create fewer headaches for ATC is to reduce the complexity of the airport and take away choices from the pilots. That’s what they’re doing at ORD.

    Airport delays are dependent on three things: Runway configuration, local weather patterns, and scheduled demand. ATC is way down the list, and unless “reform” is going to reconfigure runways, change the weather, or reduce demand, who employs the air traffic controllers won’t move the needle in ways that will matter to the average joe.

    One last thing: In Europe, air traffic controllers are allowed to strike. In the USA, the last time that happened was 40 years ago and Reagan fired them all.

  6. @Gavin – valid questions, but… most of them apply anytime you check a bag in the first place. I mean, you go to your departure airport and hand off your bag to a complete stranger who you’ll probably never see again. Then it gets handled by who knows how many more strangers between check-in and your plane, and then by more at your arrival airport.

    Seems to me that the majority of the risk is already built in anytime you fly and check a bag… which means we’re really talking about incremental risk. This doesn’t strike me as a ton of incremental risk, and the reward is appealing. As far as your bag going missing and not finding out until late that night… a notification system would mitigate that risk… in-app, email, and/or SMS updates as your bag gets transported. So if you don’t get notified in a reasonable amount of time, you know to reach out. Delta (maybe others too?) already do these notifications when you check a bag with them.

    There are definitely obstacles to rolling something like this out, and I don’t actually expect it will ever happen. But it’s physically possible, which makes it interesting to consider.

  7. @Dan. Re: ATC. Good comments. Well articulated. UA hubs have special issues that ATC can’t fix.

  8. I agree with Justin that would make it more interesting to just exit the flight and go
    I’ve traveled in years past as a VIP with a few airlines.There was very close monitoring of our luggage before and after arrival.They had communication devices/team tracking our bags every movement and my luggage was first ahead of all others.
    They confirmed with me they had it under their watchful eye it and the baggage was on site after arrival & and in their possession and not to worry.
    They then whisked us away by private driver .Unfortunately having flown many times with BA in First Class my luggage is usually the last out after even coach 🙁 !
    Unfortunately Heathrow is typically a clusterF in organized chaos so its anyone guess how smoothy things will go even as currently expected/planned.Did I mention massive lines to clear customs?Having said that I absolutely love flying first out of Heathrow on BA with the private elegant security screening and walking right into the first class lounge
    Usually no more than 6 at a time if that many! Compared to thousands in line

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