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Playing games at 30,000 feet with United Airlines’ Clare Dussman

Appearing live at PGC London 2023, UA's senior product lead discussed the company’s success in integrating mobile games into their onboard app
Playing games at 30,000 feet with United Airlines’ Clare Dussman

If you were at PGC London 2023, you might have expected speakers from developers, publishers and service providers, but perhaps not a speaker from America’s second largest carrier, United Airlines.

Senior product lead at United Airlines, Clare Dussman was at our event to speak about how United Airlines integrated mobile games into their mobile app. The airline's app integration had humble origins. Initially they had included a basic Sudoku game within the app and naturally, at some point the game was dumped as extraneous. And of course there was an immediate negative backlash with flyers saying, “We want Sudoku back.”

After the Sudoku incident, United Airlines decided that providing a fuller, more comprehensive gaming option would clearly prove popular. The carrier recognised this unexpected audience, and the potential for them to improve the onboard service and work with developers to fine tune the experience. This even included customising some games to feature the airline’s branding with the fleet of planes in Rarepixels' Cleared to Land being remodelled to resemble United Airlines’ latest aircraft. 

Games on a plane

So what makes apps on what is, essentially an airline app, so successful? As Clare points out, "Sudoku is by far still the most popular." An accessible word game that has been played for hundreds of years. However, with such simple rules and basic brain-teasing potential it’s a great way to pass the time. And what’s more important on-board a plane than a fun way to idle away the hours before you reach your destination?

The UA team soon devised a suite of games that were small enough to not take up too much storage and place demand on hardware while offering a wide range of options that would prove enticing, quick to pick up and easily playable by any audience.

In designing this uprated in-flight offering United Airlines aimed for three key types of player: Aviation enthusiasts, flying families and nervous nellies. "All had different reasons to play and enjoyed different games. For the first group we're supporting an interest in aviation-themed games, for the second it’s keeping kids occupied and parents relaxed, and for the third it’s taking their mind off the potential stress of long-haul flights," explained Dussman.

Not only that, but a great in-flight gaming service drives engagement to UA's app. Players can be notified of delays, or buy tickets directly from the carrier and in return the airline has a great new way to reach their customers with offers and ideas.