American Airlines equips customer service agents with mobile ‘YADA’ device to help travelers on the spot

At a time that airlines are finding more ways to reduce face-to-face contact with travelers, customer service agents are reappearing at airports in the U.S. Equipped with handheld devices, they are trained to be pro-active, showing up without waiting to be called upon. We have reported before on Delta Air Lines’ ‘Red Coats’ service agents (now numbering 800 agents at 13 airports across the U.S.), and United Airlines’ ‘LineBuster’ device (rolled out at Washington and Denver airports after an earlier trial at Chicago O’Hare). 

American Airlines (AA) began experimenting with a mobile device — called Your Assistance Delivered Anywhere (YADA for short) — in July 2009 at Boston Logan airport to prevent long lines at check-in counters and self-service kiosks. The YADA handheld let’s AA staff check real-time flight status, provide connecting information, display maps of other airports and print boarding passes and baggage tags for customers checking in. The device, the size of a large cellphone, is attached to a small printer that hangs from the belt of the airline employee.

AA agents roam airport departure and arrival halls with the YADA device during peak traffic hours, after canceled or delayed flights, or when international flights land and passengers need to make a quick connection. Says AA’s CIO Monte Ford, “Our customers are mobile by definition, and when we can equip our employees with real-time mobile technology that enables them to make better decisions on behalf of the customer, we all benefit. YADA enables them to come out from behind the counter and provide real-time information, bag tags, boarding passes and other answers wherever the customer is in the airport.” 

American Airlines also sees the handheld as a revenue-generating tool. AA agents are stationed at security checkpoints as well to monitor customers who may be carrying on bags that should have been checked. Because the devices also read credit cards, agents can charge a bag fee directly at the boarding gate. American does not indicate whether the devices could be used to issue meal vouchers and the like for delayed flights, but this may be added later. 

The handhelds are currently available to AA agents at nine airports across the U.S, and American will introduce the service at more airports by the end of 2010. Customers still will have to see desk agents or use self-service kiosks for more complicated transactions, such as checking in for international flights or upgrading with miles. 

Related articles: LineBusters, Red Coats and Tourist Angels: The return of customer service agentsNext in passenger self-service: DIY lost luggage recovery

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