Jake Cefolia, United Airlines

Jake Cefolia, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales at United Airlines, gave us an update on the carrier's latest efforts on behalf of business travelers.

Q: What should travel managers know about reducing air travel costs and keeping their travelers in policy?

Managing costs and traveler satisfaction is as much an art form as it is a science. There are tangible ways to be successful with both. Transit time is a key decision factor for customers because their time is valuable. Therefore, you can drive up traveler satisfaction to keep them in policy, while driving down costs by:

  • Forecasting your company’s travel patterns and then asking yourself, “Which airline offers the most convenient flights to save traveler time? Do they have alliance partners to expand network reach and include in our contract?”
  • Reaping volume discounts by consolidating air travel with a carrier offering the most non-stop flights to destinations your travelers fly.
  • Making sure your policy is aligned with the corporate culture and easy for all employees to view when making travel decisions.
  • Keeping in touch with your travelers so you know if the policy needs adjustments.

Q: What does the year ahead look like for United?

A: We’re excited for 2019 as United’s network will continue to grow, offering even more options for travelers worldwide. New products will launch throughout the year. As a company, more than ever before, we’re putting customers at the center of everything we do and this includes investing in our Sales partnerships and the traveler experience. 

From a Sales perspective, we have a highly motivated Sales team eager to work with business partners to customize their United experience. On the agency side, we’re doubling down on our relationships and adding resources to make sure agency partners are supported in all they do for us. On the corporate side, we’re focused on customizing the United experience through unique programs for travelers.

This customer focus mindset extends to the entire United team through investments in both people and products. All 90,000 United employees have completed service training that guides every interaction with our customers: safe, caring, dependable and efficient. These essential values are the foundation of the customer service culture we’re building. And, there are now two ways every United employee can earn bonuses: 1) beating our competitors with the best on-time departure performance and 2) improving customer satisfaction.

On the product side, you will see a regular cadence of exciting new products launch throughout the year. Here are a few, with many more to come.

  • We launched our re-imagined mobile app with more dynamic and engaging content.
  • We’re taking delivery of modern new airplanes that are even more reliable.
  • We’re rolling out our new Premium Plus product with the first flight scheduled for March.
  • We now offer free live TV, benefitting 29 million people expected to fly our DIRECTV-enabled planes this year.

Lots of companies say they care about their customers. We want United customers to feel it. Every customer. Every flight. Every day.

Q: How does your expansive route network make business travel more efficient?

A: United is known for having the best route network in the industry. This means that we, together with our Star Alliance partners, can take customers seamlessly to virtually anywhere in the world. Recently United recaptured the number two spot among the world’s largest airlines as we introduced an industry-leading 93 new routes in 2018. This kind of growth doesn’t happen often in this industry and it was all done in response to customer demand. More flight options means more seat inventory and more choices for travelers. This not only saves travel time, but our top tier reliability gets them where they need to be safely, comfortably and on time.

Q: Describe the Polaris experience for business travelers.

A: United Polaris® business class brings a new level of quality to every aspect of international premium cabin travel - from lounge to landing – to provide the best sleep in the sky. Your journey starts in an elegant United Polaris lounge where you can relax and recharge until it’s time for takeoff. A thoughtful selection of amenities awaits you such as signature seating, daybeds and showers. You can enjoy an extensive offering of hot and cold selections or seated meal service as well as curated wines, premium spirits, craft beer selections and handcrafted cocktails. Once onboard your flight, you are offered a multi-course inflight dining experience featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients, and à la carte snacks to enjoy at your convenience. To create the right environment for restful sleep, along with pillows and a soft comforter, in your amenity kit you'll find skincare items, ear plugs and an eye mask to block out ambient distractions. Additionally, noise-reducing headphones are provided to tune to the relaxation channel in your seatback entertainment system. This experience is supported by our specially trained staff who make rest easy as you travel to your destination.

Q: How does United respond to consumer feedback?

A: We pride ourselves on fostering open and honest feedback. Our global sales team is trained to listen carefully, think creatively, and respond proactively with solutions for their customers’ needs. In addition, we facilitate Customer Advisory Boards where we solicit candid comments to current and potential products. Traveler feedback enjoys top priority in company meetings and is instrumental in our development of innovative solutions to make air travel the best it can be. At United, everyone earns bonuses aimed at improving customer satisfaction. It is at the heart of what we do.

Q: Tell me about the latest updates to your mobile app.

United recently released a re-imagined version of the number one most downloaded airline app. This all-in-one travel partner interacts with customers as they move throughout their entire United journey.

With a modern design and more engaging content, the updated United app is dynamic and pushes helpful, up-to-the-minute information to the home screen. For example, 24 hours before departure, the home screen prompts you to check-in. Once checked in, your boarding pass will populate on the home screen. Once inflight, the home screen will update to display flight status and onboard entertainment options. In the event of a connection, you'll find directions from your arrival gate to your connecting gate on the app. At your final destination, baggage claim information will display. 

Updates also include a new streamlined navigation bar offering quick access to the most popular and helpful features and an inbox icon that stores useful information such as gate changes, flight status updates and boarding alerts. Also, a profile icon allows travelers to easily find account information, and any associated United credit cards and club passes.

The updated app is now available for download. Stay tuned for other additional enhancements rolling out throughout the year.

Q: What tactics have you implemented based on input from your Corporate Advisory Board?

A: Our Corporate Advisory Board members are very special to us and they help us in shaping a wide range of initiatives from customer-centric policies, to launching new products to project prioritization. Here are a few examples where their input has informed our products:

  • Developing our Corporate Preferred program to make it a best-in-class differentiated experience for corporate travelers.
  • Launching our United Jetstream portal that offers self-serve traveler amenities, news and policy information, and customizable reporting capabilities.
  • Enabling the United app to check travelers in for flights on other carriers.
  • Enabling flight attendant recognition of corporate customers.

Q: How does your United Jetstream product help travel managers?

A: United Jetstream puts the power of United at travel managers’ fingertips. This easy-to-use B2B website offers self-serve traveler amenity processing, important United updates such as weather waivers and news, and the most comprehensive, customized reporting in the business. The site saves managers’ valuable time with intuitive features that make completing amenity processing within seconds a breeze. It also provides customized, interactive reports, insights on travelers’ ancillary spend and ways to explore “what if” scenarios to maximize their partnership. This all adds up to helping travel managers manage business with United more effectively and efficiently.

Q: How do you see the role of the Travel Advisor as part of United’s strategy?

A: Travel Advisors are an extension of our Sales team. They are skilled professionals knowledgeable about our products and service. Every day we actively work to make sure they have as many resources and tools as possible to serve our mutual customers. We partner with Travel Advisors to deliver a great purchasing experience for corporate customers. In addition to tools such as United Jetstream and unique agency agreements, we offer a variety of customer-focused policies, products and programs to help Travel Advisors meet their clients’ needs, making it easy to choose United for their air travel.

Are you booked on a long-haul flight, or know someone who is? Check out our article: How to Survive Your Next Red-Eye Flight

Ready to speak with a corporate travel expert about how you can better manage your business travel? Get in touch with us to schedule a free consultation that can help lower costs and improve employee productivity.