United Airlines plots 2022 rebound with big dose of IT

United Airlines argues that 2021 will be a transition year that will help it emerge stronger and more innovative. Here are a few IT projects to watch.

United Airlines is betting that technology is going to help it navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and ultimately rebound in 2022.

The company said that it is aiming to hit $2 billion in annual cost savings. These savings will be critical since United lost $7.1 billion for 2020 and $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter. United's fourth quarter revenue was $3.4 billion, down 69% from a year ago. United burned through $19 million a day on its core operations in the fourth quarter, a $5 billion improvement compared to the third quarter.

"If you look at the changes we've made early and throughout the crisis to our customer-facing app or the new technology we're testing in airports or the COVID-19 testing capabilities that we're making available for customers, there's simply no question that United has leapfrogged the rest of the aviation industry," said CEO Scott Kirby, who noted that United's innovation will set it up for the future.

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Here's a look at United's key technology projects. 

Vaccine, COVID-19 passports

United said that it is focused on technology as a way to manage COVID-19 testing requirements, vaccine status. Linda Jojo, executive vice president and chief digital officer at United, said:

We are definitely focused on making it as easy for our customers as we can to manage through all the different rules, whether it's around testing requirements, vaccine requirements, and certainly, technology is going to have a big piece of that. And so what I'd say is stay tuned. We've got a lot of really good things coming very shortly.

Mobile apps are everything

United redesigned it mobile app to be more accessible and launched an automated assistant chat that gives customers a contactless option to get information about cleaning and safety procedures.

The bet is that United's mobile app is going to be the primary customer interface in the future. United launched a redesigned mobile app in October.

No touch technology

United said it launched virtual, on-demand customer service at the airport as well as expanded touchless check-in capabilities to kiosks at more than 215 airports.

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IT as money saver

United said it is aiming to save $2 billion by taking out structural costs. Technology will play a big role.

Gerald Laderman, United's CFO, said:

Think about this as just across the board, a couple of keywords. Probably the biggest one is efficiency. That's going to be driven a lot by the technology innovation that will unlock both labor efficiency and just better utilization of assets. We're going to be able to look at our real estate and start consolidating and combining some facilities, continue to streamline processes, technology investments and allowing our customers to do more self-service.