How United Airlines Uses Data to Take Pain out of Flight Delays

Mitch Wagner
10/27/2017

SAN DIEGO -- Tibco Now -- Flight delays are inevitable, but United Airlines is using application data to take the pain away for its passengers.

United uses its internal applications to make delays less unpleasant for passengers -- even sending luxury cars to meet very high-value passengers at their arrival gate and shuttle them to departure gates. Other passengers might get free WiFi, dinner or entry to the airline club to cushion the pain of delays.

Michael Schuman, United senior manager for IT applications development and operations data enablement, described how the company integrates its flight information at a session at the Tibco Now conference here this week.

Photo by Lasse Fuss (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Lasse Fuss (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

"Anytime anything changes, something related to the flight, takeoff, delay, or something like a gate change -- all of those things get sent into our system, and we put them out in real time," Schuman says.

The challenge: United was getting inconsistent flight information -- which it calls FLIFO -- from eight or nine different sources. Sometimes, customers knew about flight data before gate agents did.

To solve that problem, United is using Tibco Software Inc. (Nasdaq: TIBX) technology to integrate data from multiple sources and feed it into the airline mobile app for consumers, as well as its internal operational apps, airline displays and other information channels.

The airline consolidated multiple sources of flight information from its legacy apps to a unified platform built on Tibco, Schuman said. Every application that requires United and United Express flight data receives it from this single source. A total of 230 clients consume accurate and timely flight information in the form of events and services.

Customers can get flight information from many channels, including real-time alerts on mobile or text. The same core business events are used for operational applications and customer channels. Status fields are continually updated in client apps, including estimated time of departure and arrival, gate changes and baggage claim, Schuman said.

United's Michael Schuman
United's Michael Schuman


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Delays kick off an array of actions to help customers. Premier passengers get those luxury cars. Meanwhile, a team of experts works on providing compensation at various levels, including amenity carts dispatched to gates for passengers waiting for delayed flights, based on triggers from the UFLIFO system. UFLIFO also provides flight data for STAR Alliance members and other partner airlines.

Data originates in mainframe and third-party apps, and is piped through to Tibco BusinessEvents 5.3, which reacts to business events by triggering predefined rules; BusinessWorks 5.13 to integrate applications and data sources; and ActiveSpaces 2.2, a peer-to-peer in-memory data grid or virtual shared memory, Schuman says. United uses a continuously available architecture within a data center, with two synced clusters on the data grid to ensure the company always has a backup, with no outages during cutover and maintenance. The feed goes to a variety of clients, including mainframe systems, customer devices and operational applications.

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— Mitch Wagner Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn profile Visit my blog Follow me on Facebook Editor, Enterprise Cloud News

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Michelle
Michelle
11/7/2017 | 1:47:45 PM
Re: Data in action
That's a fair assumption. I suspect flying personal craft will be an infrastructure nightmare. We may not see them for a very very long time if government continues at its current speed. Good news, I guess.
kq4ym
kq4ym
11/6/2017 | 9:52:03 AM
Re: Data in action
While those "flying" cars pop up in the news fairly regularly and going back decades as desighners dream on quicker transportation, it still seems that it will be sometime if ever that most folks will be able to hop into their personal craft. But I could see after most cars become autonomous, there may be a more rapid development of flying vehicles operating themselves like the cars.
Ariella
Ariella
11/1/2017 | 1:26:35 PM
Re: More Helpful Data
@PhilbRitt I just saw an article today about all the possibilities IoT opens up for airports (not just airlines) here http://deloitte.wsj.com/cio/2017/11/01/now-boarding-iot-for-airlines/

At airports, there is no shortage of "things" that can be linked through an IoT framework. And more than 95 percent of surveyed passengers in the U.S. are carrying at least one mobile device, which gives airlines countless opportunities to interact with customers via beacons and other sensors. From proximity-based offers to simplified security procedures, IoT technologies could help airlines to better engage, empower, hear, delight, and know customers—the five pillars of a customer experience (CX) framework that can help build emotional connections.

For example, IoT sensors can benefit passengers by helping to locate lost luggage or triggering more accurate push notifications about flight status. Sensors could also reduce maintenance delays; for example, an IoT sensor could detect an aircraft part that requires maintenance while the plane is still in flight and notify the arrival airport. Rather than being taken out of service when it lands, the aircraft could be repaired quickly at the gate and leave for its next destination on schedule.

 

It goes on to list some specific benefits and what would be entailed.
Michelle
Michelle
10/31/2017 | 11:15:52 PM
Re: Data in action
That is really impressive! It's always great to hear a GOOD travel story. Not common these days. 
maryam@impact
[email protected]
10/31/2017 | 11:05:56 PM
Re: Data in action
Thank you, Michelle, I will gladly wait! Unless travelers have the means to fly private airline travel is still very arduous and time-consuming. I am hoping that the future sees great improvement for travelers, not a backward path as we have seen. I did see one improvement on a recent trip that excited me I used the passport scanner abroad it was super cool and saved lots of time on my return journey. I departed my aircraft just like a domestic flight after clearing customs and immigration abroad largely electronically.
Michelle
Michelle
10/31/2017 | 4:16:19 PM
Re: Data in action
Certainly! You're on the waiting list...

 

Now we just

 

wait.
maryam@impact
[email protected]
10/31/2017 | 10:11:43 AM
Re: Data in action
kq4ym it may very well be the masses paying for the perks for premium customers I recently read that United's new economy class will not allow passengers to use the overhead bins that will require a higher prices ticket. Eventually, the airline industry will get competitive again and passengers won't be subject to some of these ridiculous restrictions.
maryam@impact
[email protected]
10/31/2017 | 10:05:11 AM
Re: Data in action
Michelle now that would be awesome--no long security delays and flexible flight times! Sign me up and can Rosie come with me?
kq4ym
kq4ym
10/30/2017 | 5:11:11 PM
Re: Data in action
While it seem refreshing to see that there seems to be an effort at better customer service, and perks depending on the "importance" of the customer, one wonders if in the end the public is paying for all that attention when one would think it should come as a matter of fact and a cost of business.
Michelle
Michelle
10/30/2017 | 2:00:39 PM
Re: Data in action
I hope they figure it all out someday. We might have flying cars by then and use commercial airlines a lot less often...
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