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Cloud Native/NFV

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

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 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...
[email protected] 10/30/2017 | 12:44:57 PM
Data in action I fly United often because of where I live but I have to say I have not experienced much more than a text informing me of a flight delay or that its time to check in. I would love to see more proactive texts and more customer loyalty for its longtime consumers but right now that is not the case. Airline loyalty programs are becoming very difficulties to use with their complex way of awarding miles. The industry has consolidated so much that flyers pay the price, on a regular flight or delayed flight
mhhfive 10/30/2017 | 11:50:30 AM
Re: More Helpful Data > "...flying any place one can drive in six hours or less hardly worth the hassles and delays. Flying was a much better experience decades ago."

Just wait..? In a few years, SpaceX might be able to get you almost anywhere in the world in under an hour! If you can handle the G-forces, that is... and whatever kind of TSA they'll have to board a rocketship. :P
Susan Fourtané 10/28/2017 | 10:49:33 AM
Re: More Helpful Data I completely agree. Even in Europe, sometimes it’s just much better to take the Eurostar from London to Paris and have a pleasant 2 hour trip rather than going through the airport nightmare. Plus, if you think about it, it takes longer to fly to Paris with all the time you have to spend at the airport and going there. Or to some of the nearby cities in Continental Europe. Not just flying, the airport as well. And it just gets worse. I keep on waiting for teleporting during my lifetime. :)
Phil_Britt 10/28/2017 | 10:34:19 AM
Re: More Helpful Data We had no such thing as body scanners back in the day (severely dating myself), and they and other security procedures today are extremely invasive. And flying any place one can drive in six hours or less hardly worth the hassles and delays. Flying was a much better experience decades ago. Now it's nothing but a tremendous hassle, but there's no other reasonable option for overseas or for very long distances even in-country. 
Susan Fourtané 10/28/2017 | 10:21:27 AM
Re: More Helpful Data Sometime in the early 2000s, I was flying from Washington DC to Frankfurt. It was a United flight operated by Lufthansa. They kept me at security forever. I don’t remember details, but I do remember that thanks to them I missed my flight. Of course I complained. They sent me in the next flight with an upgrade to Business class. — Yep. I meant the body scanner earlier, not the X-Ray machine. I found the officer’s manual scanning particularly over invasive.
Phil_Britt 10/28/2017 | 9:57:51 AM
Re: More Helpful Data X-rays better than the alternative. In Chicago, American was the first to have inspected bags -- before the advent of airport x-ray machines, and a contract that started in late fall of 1972, so that holiday season, we wound up having to open up many wrapped gifts to inspect them. The security started because of the recent rise of hijackings.
Susan Fourtané 10/28/2017 | 9:54:31 AM
Re: More Helpful Data Sure, security at the airports was quite different from what it is today: sometimes quite invasive, as I experienced this week in Berlin. Perhaps someone should develop a more sophisticated X-Ray machine so to avoid any physical contact with the ”officers.” Perhaps journalism was the same in those days. :)
Phil_Britt 10/28/2017 | 9:19:14 AM
Re: More Helpful Data It was basic security (no guns), we ran xray machines at airport when they first came out. The same company provided ushers at the ballpark. It was basically a high-school/early college job. Would never have paid the bills -- kind of like journalism today :)
Susan Fourtané 10/28/2017 | 9:16:11 AM
Re: More Helpful Data Too many combinations is never a good idea, I believe. Why did you leave security?
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