United To Equip Flight Attendants With iPhone 6 Plus - InformationWeek

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12/11/2014
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United To Equip Flight Attendants With iPhone 6 Plus

United Airlines plans to distribute 23,000 iPhone 6 Plus devices to flight attendants to improve customer service and communications.

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United Airlines plans to equip 23,000 of its flight attendants with the Apple iPhone 6 Plus beginning next year. The airline believes the deployment will help its in-flight staff better serve customers by placing safety and service information at their fingertips.

United said it will start distributing the handsets to its 23,000 mainline flight attendants beginning in the second quarter of 2015.The company didn't say how quickly it expects to get the smartphones passed out. At first, flight attendants will be able to use the iPhones for basic tasks such as accessing corporate email, United's website and intranet, and policy/procedure manuals. United didn't specify if its staffers will have access to all these resources when airborne. (United trails its major competitors in terms of in-flight WiFi access, though it is slowly catching up.)

The iPhones will also handle most onboard retail transactions, though United did not detail how the iPhones will be used to swipe passenger credit cards or what software will be used. United already requires credit cards for all onboard purchases for items such as food, beverages, and Sky Mall products; flight attendants currently use dedicated credit card terminals to process those transactions.

[Do you check your phone first thing in the morning? You're in good company. Read Americans 'Obsessed' With Their Devices.]

Going forward, United expects the iPhone 6 Plus to replace the flight attendants' printed safety manual with an electronic version. Further, attendants will be able to use the devices to better follow up on cabin issues and repairs as well as provide real-time information on events that occur when airborne. United is also developing customer-focused tools for the smartphones.

"We are thrilled to make this investment in our flight attendants," said Sam Risoli, United's senior VP of inflight services. "iPhone 6 Plus will enable them to deliver an even higher level of flyer-friendly service and will offer our flight attendants simple, one-touch access to valuable work information, enabling them to better serve our customers."

United already uses Apple's iPad in the cockpit: The tablet replaced bulky flight manuals in 2011. United said it is already looking at the iPad Air 2 to replace its original batch of iPads.

Apple released the iPhone 6 and its larger sibling, the 6 Plus, earlier this year. The iPhone 6 Plus features a 5.5-inch 1080p HD screen, extensive battery life, 8-megapixel camera, and LTE 4G.

Last year, Delta Airlines equipped 19,000 of its flight attendants with the Nokia Lumia 820 smartphone. Delta's Lumia phones are running customized software from Avanade that runs on the Microsoft Dynamics for Retail mobile point-of sale platform.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/12/2014 | 12:21:11 AM
Re: iPhone-based airline app, but not (apparently) by IBM
Pedro, 

They choose Apple devices because, like or not, they are simple the best and offere the best applications on top of the excellent hardware. If you have an Apple device you can trust it will always work and will not crash every second day. 

-Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/12/2014 | 12:17:56 AM
Re: iPhone-based airline app, but not (apparently) by IBM
Daniel, 

I never understood what keeps United holding back from offering free-in-flight WiFi. It's not that they don't have the budget for it, or that the technology doesn't exist. If smaller airlines can offer such service why not United? 

That would make the iPads and iPhones valuable tools when flying the friendly skies. 

-Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/12/2014 | 12:13:59 AM
Re: iPhone-based airline app, but not (apparently) by IBM
D, 

Everything sounds good, but crew members, as well as passengers, would benefit enormously if United would finally do something about offering free in-flight WiFi, just like other smaller airlines do.

-Susan 
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
12/12/2014 | 12:04:13 AM
Re: iPhone-based airline app, but not (apparently) by IBM
I expect to see a lot more of this. Yet this United news is interesting because it is unlikely these phones will be very useful in-flight. 

Here's hoping United will increase its wifi capabilities going forward to make these iPhones a really valuable tool. 
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
12/11/2014 | 10:13:01 PM
Re: iPhone-based airline app, but not (apparently) by IBM
I can see why using tablet and other smartphones makes since in the airline industry.  I do wonder what will be the decision of using on vendor over another.   Is it that Apple has some special parnertship to develop specialized programs with them?  I think this time around tablets are really getting a hold in different industries.  Such partnerships with industry can really set the foundation of new users.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2014 | 12:02:12 PM
iPhone-based airline app, but not (apparently) by IBM
IBM this week announced its IBM MobileFirst Apps for iOS in partnership with Apple, but companies including United have long been building iOS-based enterprise apps on thier own. IBM now offers two airline-related apps it built with input from customer Air Canada: A Plan Flight app promises to let pilots view schedules, flight plans, crew manifests, and weather info in advance so they can make better-informed decisions about fueling. Passenger+ is designed to empower flight crews to offer personalized services to passengers, using frequent flier data to support special offers, rebooking, and baggage information.

United didn't share much detail on who built its app and what it will support, but it does NOT sound like it's based on Passenger+ (and IBM would be promoting the heck out of that if it was). The Windows phone deployment at Delta Airlines mentioned above is powered by Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP and a partner point-of-sale system. The vendor supplying the back-end application has a huge leg up to becoming the mobile app provider.   
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