United Airlines has launched what it is calling a new ‘Agent on Demand’ service, giving customers access to virtual customer support at its hub airports.

The initiative enables travellers to access calls, texts or video live chat with a member of United staff via their mobile phone, to ask queries “on everything from seat assignments to boarding times”.

The service has launched at Chicago O’Hare and Houston George Bush International airports, with plans to roll it out to other United hub locations by the end of the year.

Customers access the service by scanning a QR code displayed on signage at the airport, or through self-service kiosks at selected gate areas, and are connected to an agent by phone, chat or video depending on the traveller’s preference.

Examples of queries which United says might be resolved through the service include questions on seat assignments, upgrades, standby list, flight status and rebooking.

The carrier also said that a translation functionality is integrated into the chat platform, allowing customers to communicate with agents in over 100 languages.

United said the technology would free up more time for gate staff “to provide caring service to customers, and complete other critical pre-departure tasks”.

An increasing number of airlines and hotels are developing virtual and AI customer service platforms – Hilton recently launched a new customer service chatbot giving guests “a quick and convenient one-stop source for travel advisory services”.

Hilton introduces AI customer service Chatbot

Commenting on the news Linda Jojo, United’s Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer, said:

“We know how important it is for our customers to have more options for a contactless travel experience and this tool makes it easy to quickly receive personalized support directly from a live agent at the airport while maintaining social distancing.

“Agent on Demand allows customers to bypass waiting in line at the gate and seamlessly connect with customer service agents from their mobile device, ensuring they continue to receive the highest levels of service while also prioritizing their health and safety.”