5 Major Airline Changes You Should Expect This Holiday Season: United, Southwest, and More

Some airlines are adding perks and features that could make your next flight easier.

Traveling over the holidays can be a particularly grueling experience if your plans involve heading to the airport. From long lines at security to widespread weather delays, getting where you need to go can dampen the spirit of the season. But if you're planning on braving the crowds this year to be with your family and loved ones, you might be surprised to find that the journey won't be exactly the same as previous years. Read on for the major airline changes you should expect this holiday season.

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1
United's upgraded app and website could streamline your trip.

United airlines web site on mobile phone screen. Mobile version of United airlines company web page on smartphone. Official web page of United airlines.
Shutterstock

Downloading an airline's app before your flight can be the easiest way to ensure you check in early, get your boarding pass right away, and stay updated on any last-minute changes or delays. But if you're flying United this holiday season, you might notice a few other improvements that could make your trip run more smoothly.

This year, the carrier was the first of the major airlines in the U.S. to take advantage of the iPhone's Live Activities capabilities, Simple Flying reports. The simple feature allows travelers running the latest iOS on their Apple devices to get all the information they need for their flight without leaving the lock screen, including gate information and a countdown to boarding.

Passengers who check in on the app or online can also take advantage of United's new "bag drop shortcut" when checking luggage. Passengers can use the feature to scan their boarding passes at kiosks to print bag tags before bringing them to an agent for an ID check, turning the typically long wait in line into a quick handoff that takes an average of 60 seconds, per Simple Flying.

RELATED: Travelers Are Boycotting Southwest Over New Boarding Change.

2
Alaska Airlines is making it easier to pay for in-flight purchases.

Alaska Airlines

For all the chaos of holiday travel, it can be much easier to relax once you've taken your seat onboard and are on your way. And if you're flying Alaska Airlines, it will be even easier this year to take advantage of the downtime and purchase yourself an in-flight drink or snack after the carrier announced the introduction of Tap to Pay for passengers traveling with smartphones.

"You can pay for your alcoholic beverage or snack pack with just a simple tap from your iPhone or Apple Watch to pay with Apple Pay, other digital wallet, or contactless credit or debit card—no more swiping," the carrier wrote in a press release on Nov. 16.

But make sure you still have a backup way to pay this year just in case: The airline clarified that the new feature is "rolling out on select flights and will be available across our fleet in the next few months."

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3
Meanwhile, Southwest is charging a bit more for certain beverages during your trip.

A Southwest Airlines airliner taking off with an air control tower in the background
Bradley Caslin/Shutterstock

No matter how you plan on paying for them, you should expect to shell out more for some drinks on a Southwest flight. On Nov. 15, the company announced that it had increased the price of most alcoholic beverages onboard, with wine and spirits going up an average of $2 and some beers rising by $1, effective immediately.

"Southwest last adjusted pricing for onboard beverages in 2018 and recently reviewed our position as we work to keep fares low while offering our customers unmatched flexibility," a spokesperson told USA Today. "Upon review, we made the decision to implement a modest change to the pricing of our alcoholic beverages."

While non-alcoholic drinks are still free, travelers can now expect to pay $8 for a glass of wine, $9 for a spirit, and $7 for a beer due to the changes. However, frequent flyers who've reached the A-List Preferred Rapid Rewards loyalty tier will be able to sip on up to two complimentary alcoholic beverages per flight thanks to recently announced changes to the program, per USA Today.

4
You can help yourself to free bites with snack stations on some United flights.

An aerial shot of a United Airlines plane sitting on a runway
iStock / Jetlinerimages

Passengers feeling peckish on certain United flights won't have to go hungry this holiday season. Starting on Nov. 30, the airline is offering a free snack station for economy travelers on its new Airbus A321neo planes, Business Insider reports.

The "Grab-N-Go" stations will be open for perusing once flight crews have finished their first round of service and will include items like water, snack mixes, and more, depending on flight distance. But the new perk will only be offered on relatively long flights that are 801 miles or longer.

"This new offering is just the latest in United's ongoing efforts to uplevel the customer experience for every customer, in every cabin," the airline said in a statement, per Business Insider.

RELATED: New United and JetBlue Ticket-Scam Warnings—And Recommendations.

5
You'll have to finish your drink and wrap up your work a little sooner on United flights.

Los Angeles, USA - February 22, 2016: United Airlines airplanes at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in the USA. United Airlines is an American airline headquartered in Chicago.
iStock

The end of the year can be a busy time for many people's work schedules, making those precious moments in the air a prime time to play a little catch-up before you unplug for the holidays. But if you're traveling with United, you might find you have less time to get on top of your inbox, touch up that presentation, or even finish your drink.

As of Dec. 1, the airline says it will prepare cabins for landing earlier to allow flight crew time to get into their jumpseat, travel blog Live and Let's Fly reports. This means that flight attendants will end service and do their final passthrough of the cabin to collect drinks, place seats in the upright position, and request large items like laptops get stowed away before the plane descends to 10,000 feet.

In a memo obtained by Live and Let's Fly, the airline says the decision was made for the crew's safety after consulting with multiple departments within the company about potential hazards.

"At lower flight altitudes, the pilots are conducting approach maneuvers and aircraft sensor data has shown an elevated risk for turbulence," the memo reads. "Flight attendants have sustained significant injuries in the final approach phase of flight, and data indicates a higher risk when they are not buckled in at this point. Simply put, it's not safe to be up. The goal of this new procedure is to reduce flight attendant low-altitude injuries."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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