Back to the Skies
Global Traveler|January/February 2021
United Airlines leads the way to the safe rebound of air travel.
By Allie Moore

Travelers around the world are hopeful 2021 will be the year they can take to the skies once again for long-awaited trips to dream destinations. In order to stay on top of constant changes in the travel industry, keep passengers safe amid a global pandemic and somehow still eke out a profit, airlines had to be as flexible and nimble as the rest of us, bobbing and weaving through the unpredictable altitude changes and doing everything they can to stay afloat.

As one of the country’s big three airlines, United Airlines introduced new regulations for the current and future states of travel to keep customers committed and help restore faith in flying once again while simultaneously still striving to innovate and improve. At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, United outlined a three-pillar plan: build and maintain liquidity, minimize cash burn and variabilize cost structure.

As covid-19 began to spread around the globe, United launched CleanPlus as its new standard of cleanliness and hygiene for passengers and crew. Through a partnership with Clorox, the initiative involves using the cleaning company’s products to disinfect surfaces and areas in the more than 360 global airports where United operates (including check-in kiosks, United Club locations, gates and baggage claims) as well as aircraft, and handing out hand-sanitizing wipes to passengers as they board. United also works in close coordination with Cleveland Clinic experts who advise the airline on how to enhance cleaning practices as more information about the virus’s spreading capabilities emerges.

United became one of the nation’s first airlines to announce it would not allow passengers without face masks to board aircraft, to implement touchless check-in to check luggage and to require travelers to complete an online health assessment before flying.

Technological advances that help United maintain cleanliness on board include electrostatic sprays that can disinfect an entire cabin, from floor to ceiling; ultraviolet C light wands to disinfect commonly touched surfaces like touch-screen displays; and HEPA filters to circulate air and remove up to 99.9 percent of airborne particles. But United also constantly innovates, testing new sanitation methods with artificial intelligence that can perform temperature screenings and crowd detection, drone deployed UV sanitation technology and onboard antimicrobial technology to add an extra layer of disinfectant.

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