United Puts Flight Info into Hands of Palm

FRAMINGHAM (06/30/2000) - The Web site for United Air Lines Inc. went airborne this week for users of wireless-ready Palm personal digital assistants (PDA).

User services at the world's largest airline sidestepped the middleman as part of its overall e-commerce initiative.

Chicago-based United's service will run a Java application that delivers free paging to inform travelers with PDAs of flight delays, cancellations and gate information via e-mail. Messages can also be sent automatically to a PC, text-enabled cellular phone or alphanumeric pager.

The service, called United Update, is the latest application for the airline's Palm-using customers, who were first able to check the status of their flights in May 1999.

Dan Black, United's director of e-commerce systems, said the company will soon add booking capabilities for Palm users, but telephone-based applications are United's priority.

"The phone will rule at the end of the day, simply because everybody has one," Black said.

Despite existing computer reservations networks such as those of Sabre Inc. and Galileo International Inc., which have debuted mobile links to their systems in recent months, Black said airlines can't allow middlemen to claim sole ownership of that territory.

"[Reservations systems] will only be able to handle tickets you purchase through them," he said. "We will always have product they can't access," such as special fares and certain nonrefundable tickets.

Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines already offer similar packages.

"Delta's just way down the path on this stuff," said Peachtree, Georgia-based airline consultant Jeffrey Osborn. "I think everybody else is chasing them right now."

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