So I have been spending the past week on the Star Alliance MegaDo 4. In fact, I have not made it home, but there were some important notes that came from the executive panel Q&A sessions, as well as the information session with Jeff Smisek. There are a lot of updates from this one, so I will give it its own post.
Hub and Airport Operations
While United has placed a basic gui ontop of SHARES for agents to use, a completely new integrated system will enter testing in the hubs next month continuing through Q1 2013. As a part of the new system, many graphical interfaces and tools are designed to allow for technological pieces to be used across platforms. For example, the seat map that agents will have uses the same technological resources as the website and the mobile applications. This keeps information in sync and will provide more options in the future to devlop tools that are consistent across all platforms and users. The system will also bring features that were never present in either Apollo or SHARES.
Boarding is another area that has been a sore spot, and work is being done to ease the boarding process. At some gates at ORD, they are reconfiguring the boarding lanes so that Premier Access and general boarding are not parallel lines, but instead go in different directions to keep the lines separate. They are also working to reduce the number of boarding groups, as well as adjust the number to accomodate the aircraft type (since a CRJ-200 with 7 boarding groups is just crazy). With some of the items being tested, they have been able to successfully load a packed 757 in 12 minutes, without any increase in the number of agents at the gate. Also, as for seating configuration for most efficient boarding, they have encountered that Window-Middle-Aisle is the most efficient.
Carry-Ons are a major sore spot for passengers, and progress is coming on that front. One thing that has held back United in getting aggressive in enforcement is that most gates do not have bag tag printers, as well as ways for gate agents to collect the bag fees at the gate for passengers who bring an oversized carry-on. These two factors will provide a better tool so that agents can easily check bags, instead of having to do hand written tags, and hope that the passenger can be found. This will also allow for the gate checked bags to be linked to reservations to facilitate tracking in case of irregular operations.
For those who fly regional jets out of ORD, there is great news that some of you may have noticed. The T2 United Club is being replaced by a new location right above the McDonalds. It will be 5 times the size of the current club, and is going to be the prototype for all new and renovated United Clubs, as this is the first club to open since the integration. They are currently investigating the cost of turning the existing club into an expanded customer service counter to be able to better serve passengers during IRROPS, especially since regional jet flights are impacted at a greater rate than mainline. All T2 gates will have jetbridges by the end of 2013, including F1, where a completely new setup is being built. At IAH, after the next round of construction is complete, Terminal B will also have a new club, that will be better configured to handle passengers over the current club there. LAX renovations will begin in 2014 as a part of the terminal refreshment program, so expect to see major improvements there then.
And a few customer service notes, that many of you will be glad to see. All customer facing employees are in the process of going through customer service training to be completed by the end of the first half of 2013. Also, they are starting to actively track customer complaints about bad service at EWR. In addition to looking at the employees who are driving complaints, they are also working to process compliments and publically praising and rewarding agents who perform above and beyond to provide positive reinforcement to try and encourage them to perform better.
As for dealing with agents from the combined carrier, the panel acknowledged that they are still working to get the policies in place to empower agents to help the customer. The challenge is to tell agents to use common sense, and not create a hard policy that will just completely cause the boundries to be pushed. Thus, if the policy for baggage were to be 50lbs +5% at the agents discretion, then it is very easy for that amount to become standard for luggage, and the amount has to be adjusted upward.
And in miscellaneous notes, after ORD opened TSA pre-check, the throughput is greatly enhanced for that lane. While a regular security lane is only able to handle 80 passengers an hour, the pre-check lane processes 300-350 passengers in an hour. Also, they have been performing the uniform fittings for all airport employees, as they are ready to launch the new uniforms so that there will be a combined look to employees. Below are pictures of the uniforms for the customer service agents and ramp workers. Global Services employees will have a slightly different uniform.