United calls ‘LineBuster’ to get fliers out of line

By Wailin Wong
Posted Dec. 21, 2010 at 1:33 p.m.

Few holiday rituals cause more angst than air travel, where frazzled crowds and bad weather can transform even the simplest trip into a teeth-gnashing, garment-rending affair.

Adoption of technology such as text-message alerts and smart phone applications has smoothed some travel wrinkles, notifying travelers of rescheduled flight times or helping them navigate an unfamiliar airport. Airlines also have automated much of the process by installing self-service kiosks where passengers can check in for flights, look up their itinerary or request an upgrade.

But, according to United Airlines, travelers are hard-wired to wait in line to speak with a customer service agent and will queue up even when they don’t need to. Some passengers who miss a flight are automatically rebooked and can check in at a kiosk, but they queue up at the counter because they’re unaware of this.

This year, United agents started using Motorola mobile computers with “LineBuster” software designed to quickly triage queued-up passengers. Agents look up customers’ information on the handheld units, which can scan boarding passes and read credit cards. Travelers who have been rebooked may be directed out of line to check in at a kiosk. Agents also can access flight information for United and other airlines to give stranded passengers an idea of their options.

“So many people just have simple questions” that can be answered without waiting in line, said Guy Zalel, project manager for airport strategy at United.

United tested this technology last year and launched the program last week, deploying about 40 of the handheld computers across its five hubs. Zalel said two agents using the units cleared  a line of about 100 people in 20 minutes on a Saturday at O’Hare International Airport.

Future versions of the LineBuster software could allow agents to rebook passengers on the spot or scan a tag on a piece of luggage.

“We’ve been talking about putting a portable device in (agents’) hands for years,” Zalel said.


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One comment:

  1. C Dec. 21, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    I still resist using the kiosks. Prefer to check in with a human even if it means showing up earlier to wait in line. Self-service automation–making the customer push buttons as ordered by a machine–allows a company to hide behind electronics and gives them more opportunities to hassle customers in a way that no human agent could get away with. Why would I cooperate with the shift to that kind of treatment?