The Coronavirus has caused a number of shifts in air travel, but United forced users to update their app. Flyers had issues at the airport, but other airlines didn’t require the same.
Coronavirus and US Department of Transportation Requirements
Following the continued spread of Coronavirus despite efforts to combat and contain the disease, the US and other countries have taken unilateral action against visitors to/from/through China. The US is temporarily disallowing foreign visitors who have been in China in the last 14 days, and quarantining Americans for the same.
While President Trump mentioned that he may consider banning travel to or from China, the US flag carriers saw that opportunity and beat him to the punch. Whether that was the real reason they cut their flights in this slow season or not. However, the edict above stands regardless of carrier.
United Forces App Update
To enforce the automatic screening (and tick a legal box) United decided that instead of rolling out the extra requirement on individual itineraries, or adding it to the carry-on baggage disclosure that every single passenger has to acknowledge, they would break the app. Users that were already checked in for their flights or those who had yet to check-in were required to update in order to board their flights.
For some travellers, I was guiding them through updating their United app via text messages as they shuffled forward in line for boarding. While I believe smartphone users should be required to know how to use them before asking for help, I too, would be just as frustrated if I was boarding and United suddenly required an update in that moment just to get on the plane.
Other Airlines Didn’t Force User Update
My family was abroad at the time, travelling with friends who flew United while we flew Southwest. There was no further action required from Southwest neither on the app nor, the check-in counter, nor the gate. In fact, even Customs and Border Protection didn’t ask us (probably because they already knew as soon as they scanned our passports) if we had been to/from/through China.
While this is a moving target and other airlines may change their policies, we had also flown JetBlue and Spirit in the days preceding our Southwest flight and had no issues with the app itself nor questions about our travel history.
Airlines have differing approaches to how they question and advise customers especially when they have a legal obligation to do so. However, United’s approach seemed to be the worst available option. Forcing app users (some of whom may not be as digitally fluent as others) to update the app in order to use it, in some cases, as soon as immediately is a shocking lack logic.
What do you think? Should United have essentially shut down their app for all users until an update was loaded? Was there a better way than what I outlined?