United Airlines is bringing self service boarding machines to Boston

United Airlines is bringing the future to its new gates at Logan International Airport in Boston.

Next week, United will open its new 10-gate facility in Terminal B. For the most part, it’ll look like any other airport, albeit a bit newer. But there’s one major caveat. United is bringing some intriguing self service elements to its Boston facility.

According to United, eight of the terminals 10 gates will be outfitted with self-boarding units. These will allow customers to board flights by scanning their own boarding passes. United says this will mean faster boarding.

These are common in Europe — Lufthansa uses them — but we don’t see them much in the United States. I asked United if they would share a picture of the Boston setup with me, but a spokesman said I’ll have to wait until April 30, when the facility opens.

Lufthansa uses self-boarding at its German hubs. But will it work in America? Photo: Thomas Woodtli, via Creative Commons.

Lufthansa uses self-boarding at its German hubs. But will it work in America? Photo: Thomas Woodtli, via Creative Commons.

United is also bringing self bag tagging to Boston. That’s a more common approach these days. It saves airlines a bit of employee time, as workers no longer have to actually put the tag on the bag for you. I don’t think passengers mind the extra work.

“Our research shows that nearly half of all passenger requests fielded at our customer service centers can be resolved without the help of an agent,” United says on its website.

United is spending $30 million on its Boston terminal. Massport, the landlord, is paying the rest of the costs — $172 million. The project also includes a new United Club.

What do you think of the self service elements? A good step forward?

Want more on the Boston terminal? The local CBS affiliate did a story last month.


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Jetblue’s Jenny Dervin answers your questions (part 2)

Jetblue's Jenny Dervin answers your questions! File photo.

Jetblue’s Jenny Dervin answers your questions! File photo.

When I visited Jetblue headquarters in New York earlier this month, I solicited questions from readers about questions they wanted me to ask airline officials. Unfortunately, I didn’t see two of the reader questions until after my visit. But fear not. Jenny Dervin, Jetblue’s vice president for corporate communication was kind enough to answer them via email.

Certainly there’s some element of spin here, but I know my readers are smart enough to digest the answers…

John writes: “JB has had significant problems w/ weather events at JFK. The first one years ago cost founder David Neeleman his job. How is this being addressed?”

Jenny Dervin’s Response:
True! We chose to base our airline in New York, with a focus city in Boston, because that’s where the customers are. (It’s like bank robber Willie Sutton, who was asked “Why do you rob banks, Willie?” and Willie said “Because that’s where the money is!”)

But the flip side to basing our operations in the Northeast is that it’s the most congested airspace in the world. One out of every five airborne planes is operating in the Northeast – either taking off, landing or flying through. When weather strikes in the Northeast, it has a disproportionate impact on our operations compared to airlines who have hubs in fair-weather ports. Although it’s fair to say that every airline was walloped this winter, no matter where their hubs are located.

So what are we doing about it? Several things: After the first major storm of the season, we rededicated ourselves to making sure we aggressively thinned the operation in advance of any storm, so we could let our customers know well in advance of any schedule disruption. Communication well in advance, with options for rebooking are key to serving our customers. We appreciate that our customers also know that there’s very little we can do when the weather is bad.

We are also working on improving airspace management through the FAA’s NextGen efforts. 

Dave writes, “Future plans for BOS? Or is it at max capacity already?”

Jenny Dervin’s Response:
We love Boston! No airline has been able to carve out a majority market share in Boston until we did – we’re the largest airline in Boston with the most nonstops. We are currently around 100 departures a day from BOS, and we plan to operate maybe a dozen more in peak seasons. There is a capacity limit, more aligned with the number of gates we have there than anything else, but we aren’t near that max capacity limit yet.

Our plan for BOS is to continue adding destinations that are highly relevant to the customers in BOS. We serve many of the top 25 markets but not all, so our growth will be highly focused going forward.

Having said all that, I have to also say that we know we are only as good as our last flight and we have to continue to earn our customers’ business. We are improving the airport experience to help that. Massport, who runs the airport, has been a great partner, improving the security checkpoint and general infrastructure. BOS is a city that works in all respects.

Want more? Here are some more of Dervin’s answers from my visit.

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