Nation & World

United tests more detailed flight delay notifications

Passengers in Chicago and Houston getting alerts on delays longer than an hour

United Airlines is testing informing passengers why their flights are delayed. Above, stranded Delta passengers in 2016 at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
United Airlines is testing informing passengers why their flights are delayed. Above, stranded Delta passengers in 2016 at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

CHICAGO — You’re sitting at the airport, about to leave on a big summer trip, when you hear the dreaded announcement — the flight is delayed.

Would knowing why you’re about to kill a couple of hours in the airport lounge leave you less frustrated?

United Airlines is testing the idea at its Chicago and Houston hub airports. Since late January, passengers on some significantly delayed flights have been receiving alerts from the airline that include more information on the reason for the holdup — for example, a plane that needs maintenance or crew delayed while flying in from another city.

Chicago-based United plans to expand the test next month to include some regional flights as the summer travel season heats up, spokesman Charles Hobart said.

It’s expected to be available on all mainline and regional United flights leaving Chicago and Houston later this summer.

“Customers are often understanding about the fact that there is a delay, but what they appreciate and want is information, even if it’s a three- or four-sentence paragraph, in language they understand, that respects their intelligence and time,” Hobart said.

Outside the test program, United generally lets employees at the gate decide how much information to provide. When they don’t share updates, it’s often because they’re busy working with customers, Hobart said.

The alerts generally go out on flights held up by more than an hour.

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American Airlines and Southwest Airlines also give passengers multiple options for receiving notifications about flight delays and cancellations, including alerts in the airlines’ apps, text messages and emails.

But neither goes into detail as United does in its test.

American will provide more information if customers call, spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

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