United To Tout Customer Initiatives

United Airlines plans to advertise improved customer service features like self-check-in kiosks and customer advocate centers when the features become more widespread in coming months.

United said it will spend $150 million during the next two years to roll out all the programs.

The kiosks, offered by rival airlines Northwest and Continental, let passengers swipe their credit card or frequent-flier card to pick up seat assignments and boarding passes and to have luggage tags ready at express check-in counters nearby. The advocate centers are designed to help passengers beset by delayed or cancelled flights.

“There is the perception among passengers that they have to fight through the jungle when they get to the airport,” said Rono Dutta, president of United, who said the features are aimed at “improving the airport experience.”

The carrier has begun deploying large screens to display flight and weather information at airport gates. Developed by Frankel, Chicago, the EasyInfo screens will be updated every minute and count down to boarding.

Rollout was completed at Chicago’s O’Hare and will hit U.S. hubs through 2002.

As part of its branding strategy, the airline plans to hammer home to consumers the themes of easier check in and better passenger communication, said Graham Atkinson, vp-marketing. While United awaits completion of it acquisition of US Airways in April, “We haven’t said more about these products because they have to reach critical mass, but we will promote them more later this year,” Atkinson said.

He said product-specific ad executions will continue the carrier’s “Unity” campaign, begun last year through Fallon, Minneapolis.