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United turns to interactive Google map to help travelers unsure of where to go in coronavirus era

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United Airlines is turning to Google-powered interactive maps to help still-scarce travelers find destinations that fit the coronavirus era.

The map, which launched on United’s website Wednesday, allows travelers to punch in the most they want to spend on a ticket and filter airports by their destination activities or descriptions: beaches, beer and breweries, culture, food and drink, hiking, national parks, outdoors, romantic, skiing and snowboarding, and snorkeling and scuba.

For example, a search for a return trip from Newark, New Jersey, the first week in November with a preference for national parks and hiking yielded a $117 flight to Denver, a $97 flight to Las Vegas, a $207 flight to Portland, Oregon, all in basic economy, among other destinations. 

Air travel demand is stuck at less than a third of the same levels a year ago and airlines are scrambling to come up with ways to encourage travelers to book. Executives have noted that travelers are waiting much longer to book than last year, a result of so much uncertainty surrounding the virus as well as work, school and child care.

United’s new booking tool, which uses Google’s flight search engine, also allows travelers to browse flights without set dates.

“Where in the past, more people would look for flights to specific destinations on specific dates, we’re seeing that today, travelers are often more open about the destinations that they would like to visit,” United spokeswoman Christine Salamone said in an email. “They know they’d like to get away, but they’re not exactly sure where they want to go.” 

United executives and those at other airlines have said they’ve seen relatively good demand for destinations that allow travelers to physically distance, such as those near national parks and others that offer outdoor activities.

Earlier this month, United launched a map on its site that lists state travel restrictions and is considering to expanding that to international destinations, many of which remain off-limits to U.S. travelers.

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