United Airlines just made a simple change that could delight stressed flyers

It's one of the more irritating elements of flying. United finds a clever technological way to make it slightly better.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Actually thinking about passengers?

Screenshot by ZDNet

There's something peculiar going on at United Airlines.

The airline once known for its penchant for bloodying passengers' teeth has suddenly evinced an enterprising, yet oddly human attitude toward its customers.

Where other airlines have suffered from a myriad of cancellations, United seems to have flown by relatively unscathed.

And then there are the little touches. I'm not merely talking of its insistence that all employees get vaccinated -- heartening though that was. The airline has also used the pandemic moment to constantly consider what might add, even slightly, to customers' satisfaction.

United's latest idea is so blindingly simple, yet disarmingly thoughtful.

As the Points Guy revealed, the airline's app will now send notifications to customers who find themselves booked in the worst seats.

Yes, the dreaded middle seats, where you must confront the doubled possibility that someone next to you will open their laptops, elbow you, and attempt to take over the armrest.

There's also the odor thing, too, but let's not get too sniffy about that.

Instead, let's focus on the idea that when you get your notification, you can go back into your booking and attempt to grab the better seat that's come available.

This idea does, of course, enjoy its limitations. Presumably, everyone booked in a middle seat will get the notification. What will follow is an unseemly grab for a better seat. The fastest fingers will win.

I am, though, impressed with the attitude behind the idea.

If a brand wants to make even the slightest thing easier for you, it shows that it grasps some of the fundamentals of customer service. Even if the idea itself isn't entirely new.

ZDNet's parent company, Red Ventures, already offers the ExpertFlyer service. This offers similar seat alerts -- not limited to middle seats -- for customers of all airlines.

Some may think that, should business travel ever fully return, executives will always find themselves in the fancier seats. This has never been the case. As CFOs have gained ever more power and influence, the rules on business travel have been tightened.

You'll find many a harrassed engineer or executive squeezed into an economy seat and still attempting to work.

I'm sure many of them would love to be able to lean into a window and consider the meaning of their existence, while they tap out yet more emails and spreadsheets.

So bravo, United.

Now if only the airline could make the seats bigger, wider, and more comfortable -- as well as buying more planes that are bigger, wider, and more comfortable -- flying might become enjoyable again.

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