Admit it. You want to take a flight somewhere, but the world is weird right now, and you’re not sure where to go.
United Airlines feels you. The U.S. carrier is launching a new interactive “map search” feature aimed at noncommittal travelers who want to explore their options before buying a ticket. The feature, which had been in beta testing, lets you explore a simultaneous map view of multiple destinations, filtering them by attributes like ticket price, destination type, or departure city.
Have you been dreaming about flying off to a town near a national park or a city with plenty of beaches? Now’s your chance to see what’s out there in your price range. The feature goes live today on the United Airlines website.
Linda Jojo, United’s chief digital officer, says 90% of people who visit the airline’s website these days are leisure travelers. Part of the logic behind map search is to have United.com serve as more of an all-inclusive walled garden for curious travelers, thereby lessening the need to rely on third-party search engines.
“When somebody comes to your website, you want them to be able to find what they’re looking for and purchase it,” Jojo tells Fast Company. “And so this is allowing us to have people come in and have it be very easy when they’re not sure what they’re looking for. They know they want an airline ticket, but they don’t know where.”
United says it’s the first U.S. airline to leverage Google Flights enterprise technology—basically an API that lets companies tap into the search giant’s travel data. Jojo says the map feature fuses that information with United’s own data and proprietary algorithms to create a unique user experience.
While it may sound like the perfect pandemic-era escape valve for stir crazy travelers, the feature was already in the works before the coronavirus upended the industry, Jojo says. It was put on pause at the height of the pandemic, but the company now feels the time is right to release it.
Air travel volume is still less than half of what it was at this time last year, according to checkpoint data from the Transportation Security Administration. Although there had been some signs of recovery over the summer, fresh lockdowns in Europe and the threat of a second wave (or, rather, an extension of the first wave) in the United States spell trouble for airlines going into the fall.
Anything that eases the many pain points of booking a trip can only help narrow further losses, which for United added up to about $1.6 billion last quarter. Plus, as the old saying goes, it can’t hurt to look.