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Aviation Should be Strengthened Through Inclusion, Flexibility

Rolf Meyer - United Airlines
Managing Director of Sales Mexico


Sofía Hanna By Sofía Hanna | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Thu, 03/31/2022 - 08:12

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Q: How is United Airlines integrating sustainability in its day-to-day activities?

A: We recognize the role we play in contributing to climate change and our responsibility in solving it. That is why at United we are embracing the goal of becoming 100 percent green by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent by 2050–making significant investments in sustainable aviation fuel and carbon capture and sequestration will help us get there. For instance, in December, United operated the first commercial flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel on a new United Max 8 aircraft. We believe SAF has the potential to deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel but with a fraction of its carbon footprint. Last year, we also launched a new corporate venture fund–United Airlines Ventures–with the ambition to continue investing in emerging companies that have the potential to influence the future of travel. Through this venture, we will offer the support of United to emerging companies across three main sectors: sustainability, aerospace and technology. Last year, we announced, “United Next”–the purchase of 270 new Boeing and Airbus aircraft–the largest combined order in our company's history and the biggest by an individual carrier in the last decade. This plan will not only have a transformational effect on the customer experience but also significantly lower our carbon emissions per seat by 40-50 percent. Furthermore, we purchased 15 of Boom’s “Overture” airliners, a net-zero aircraft that will fly on 100 percent SAF.


Q: What are United Airlines’ priorities to improve services and passenger experience?

A: The travel experience of our customers is top of mind in all that we do. We have taken a closer look at every stage of the travel experience, introducing meaningful changes and innovations to ensure an exceptional travel experience. For instance, we have invested in our award-winning app, which includes the Travel-Ready Center. The Travel-Ready Center has been especially valuable during the pandemic as it provides users with information about travel restrictions and requirements. Users are able to upload their required documentation into the app to get their boarding passes, which receive a “Travel Ready” stamp so our airport staff does not need to double-check those passengers, making for a smoother boarding experience. 


United also launched “Agent-On-Demand,” a virtual assistance service to answer passengers’ doubts and avoid lines at service desks. Through this service, we can update passengers on their flights even if they are not in the airport.  


Q: How is United Airlines collaborating with the Eco-Skies Alliance and where is this project expected to go?

A: About 30 partners have joined this alliance and they are all helping acquire or invest in sustainable aviation fuels. In exchange, they get travel credits that align to the company. Once we get more companies to join, we hope to break our record purchase of +30 million liters of biofuel.


Q: How is United Airlines prioritizing equality and equity in its business?

A: United is an inclusive company by nature. This year, we plan to further strengthen this reputation through various initiatives. The first is United Aviate Academy, our pilot training program, where we will train prospective pilots with the goal of generating a more diverse pilot base in terms of gender and race. By 2025, we expect to have about 5,000 pilots being trained at the school.


United has also demonstrated its diversity by having representative leaders at regional and global levels. The company also created two Business Resource Groups (BRGs) for Latin America: one for the LGBTQ+ community and the other for gender equality within the company.


Q: What does it mean for United Airlines to be one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ individuals?

A: We are the first airlines to offer a nonbinary option for our passengers and we expanded benefits received by married employees to same-sex couples. This culture of inclusion and equality is embedded within the company and its values.


Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic driven digitalization of United Airlines’ services and products?

A: Flying today is safer than it was two years ago thanks to all the preventive measures we implemented and the digitalization of our services and operations. We can now reach customers through our app and provide them with an efficient system that delivers more personalized services.


Q: What is the expected impact on the aviation sector from the further implementation of 5G tech?

A: 5G interferes with some aircraft systems, especially during take-off and landing. Airlines are working with Verizon and AT&T to delay the implementation of 5G close to airports so it does not interfere with airplane operations. This is a temporary solution that will be in place until we find a better one, which would require several more regulatory actions.


Q: What have been the main changes for the airline since the start of the pandemic and which changes are permanent?

A: Before the pandemic, we operated over 1 million flights per year, including to 22 cities in Mexico. In 2020, we reached a point when we operated only one flight a day to four Mexican cities because air traffic was affected significantly. We have not recovered our pre-pandemic flight numbers in Mexico but we have expanded our capacity.


United Airlines was 80 percent business-focused before the pandemic, with a focus on the main business cities in the world. We now have diversified our destinations because the pandemic changed passenger behavior. As working from home became more popular, employees can change their residence for a week or two and work far away from crowded cities, usually going to the beach. We noticed and joined this trend. In Mexico for example, we have 31 percent more capacity for Cancun, Cozumel, Vallarta, Los Cabos and other beach destinations than we did prior to the pandemic.


Q: What can the industry expect from United Airlines during 2022?

A: Last December, we celebrated 55 years of operations in Mexico. Over those years, we have changed and grown. This year, we plan to incorporate more aircraft and open new destinations. We are becoming more efficient, digitalized and sustainable and, as such, we continue to invest in companies that align with our journey.


We want to remain open minded, learn from our customers and offer the solutions they want. In Mexico, we operate 24/7 to numerous destinations. We expect to grow and remain a strong, competitive industry leader.


United Airlines has been connecting the world for over 90 years. It has seven hubs in the US, including in the four largest cities in the country, and over 90,000 employees across the world.

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