Apple, IBM, and United Airlines are teaming up to make flying better with new apps

United airlines flight attendant mobile devicesUnited AirlinesUnited Airlines flight attendant with an iPhone.

Apple, IBM, and United Airlines are teaming up to develop a new generation of mobile apps for the carrier’s front-line employees.

The new collaborative effort, announced on February 2, is aimed at creating greater levels of functionality for the more than 50,000 Apple Watches, iPhones, and iPads United has issued to its flight attendants, gate agents, and other front line employees.

“A partnership with Apple and IBM gives our app development enterprise scale, reusability, and — most importantly — speed,” United Airlines CIO Linda Jojo told Business Insider in an interview at the company’s Global Leadership Conference in Chicago.

“We’re going to be able to deliver more tools and technologies faster to our frontline [employees] than we could if we were building it all ourselves.”

According to United’s top executive in charge of technology, the airline is seeking the input of its frontline employees to determine which functions and features to include in upcoming apps.

“Last week, we had flight attendants and gate agents in Cupertino with our technical team, with IBM, and with Apple,” The CIO told us. “[They were working on] software that will allow flight attendants to communicate maintenance items discovered on the plane back to the maintenance teams.”

Instead of being limited by the number computers at a workstation, the airline can now call in as many people as they need with these mobile devices in tow to help ease congestion during emergencies and periods of high traffic.

“Our employees are now mobile, they’re not stuck behind a desk anymore,” Jojo said. “At the gate, we now have an agent that can close out a flight or if there’s some kind of problem they can actually issue boarding passes and bag tags right from a printer that’s on their hip, and it’s all done from a mobile device.”

The United Airlines announcement is the latest development in the partnership IBM and Apple entered into in 2014 to revolutionise enterprise mobile apps.

“We wanted to have the best devices in the hands of our employees,” Jojo said regarding the decision to equip customer service representatives with Apple iPhones. In fact, it was one of the first decisions the executive made after joining the airline as CIO in 2014.

Since then, the airline’s internal tech team has been hard at work building tools for the devices. However, United understands that they can always use some extra man power and expertise. That’s where the tech firm formerly known as “Big Blue” steps in.

“While we are quite good at (app development), it takes time,” Jojo told us. “And IBM really understands how to build systems at scale and for enterprises.”

In 2011, the airline’s flight crews received iPads to serve as digital maps, charts, and navigation tools — replacing clunky pilot’s bags that weighed as much as 45 pounds. United issued iPhones to flight attendants and gate agents in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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