Beacons are landing at Newark Liberty International Airport thanks to United Airlines Inc.

Beacons—small wireless transmitters that can sense a smartphone’s location via Bluetooth low energy—are just one of several mobile technologies that United is piloting, said Debraj Basu, director of marketing optimization at United Airlines, at the Ensighten agility city tour in Chicago on Nov. 11.

Ensighten is a digital data and tag management vendor.

In most airports, travelers with the United app can open the app, identify where they are in the airport such as, security,  input their gate, and receive directions to that gate.

In August United took that a step further by using beacons to identify a traveler’s location at Newark Liberty airport. A consumer can open the United app and see a map of the airport and because of the beacons, United will place a blue dot on the map of where the traveler is. Travelers do not have to input their location to get directions or see where they are. Travelers can see exactly where they are in the airport and what’s around them, such as the names of restaurants and shops, as they traverse the airport.


Nicholas Harris, United’s senior manager of marketing channel optimization, described the beacon pilot as interesting in terms of the location data United is gathering, although he declined to give any other specifics on the program. Harris attended the Ensighten conference as well.

United worked closely with the Newark airport when placing the beacons in several locations around the airport premises, Harris said. In the future, United hopes to have the beacons provide app users with more information, such as the wait time for the Transportation Security Administration lines.

The United app has accumulated 20 million downloads since its launch in November 2013, Basu said. Other features in the United app include allowing consumers to change their seat, the ability to book an Uber taxi and the option to rebook a flight.

United also has several other apps that it continues to roll out for both consumers and employees.

A year old now, United’s MilegaePlus X app is for its millions of loyalty reward members. The app already has hundreds of thousands of downloads, Harris said.


The MileagePlus X app seeks to help United loyalty members earn  additional rewards miles. For example, in the app, travelers can see a list retailers who have partnered with United. Next to the retailer’s name, travelers can view extra bonus miles they can earn for every dollar they spend with that retailer. For example, the app might display a local bookstore with two miles next to it. So if the traveler bought a $20 book from that store, she would earn 40 miles toward her MileagePlus program. Shoppers need to pull up the app and have the retailer scan it in order to get the credit for those miles.

“What we get is more customer engagement with our brand and more knowledge of what the customer really wants to buy,” Basu said.

United pilots also uses iPads to access charts and maps. The iPad eliminates the 45-pound bag of maps and guides pilots had to carry on flights, saving United 326,000 gallons in fuel per year, Apple Inc. reports.

Flight attendants also use mobile technology.  Attendants are equipped with iPhones that display a seat map of all of the passengers in the plane. The map can indicate if a passenger has a special need or has reached a loyalty benchmark, such as one million miles flown via United.

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