Eco-friendly in the friendly skies
Sustainability initiatives did not take off just this year — many Earth Days have come and gone since we began launching environmental programs ranging from sustainable practices, products and nonprofit partnerships to green buildings and biofuel flights. These are not token programs meant just for Earth Day — they are making a real difference, every day of the year.
Biofuel in the air
In March, we became the first U.S. airline to use low-carbon aviation biofuel at commercial-scale volumes for regularly scheduled flights from LAX. Greenhouse gas emissions from AltAir biofuel are 65 to 85 percent lower than traditional jet fuel emissions throughout the life cycle — collection to use. In 2009 we began testing biofuels in our operations, conducting the first-ever biofuel demonstration flight by a U.S. carrier. We also became the first U.S. airline to use biofuel on a commercial flight in 2011. We're proud to say that this year's commencement of regular use of sustainable aviation biofuel has been recognized as an aviation milestone.The biofuel, part of a 30-percent biofuel/70-percent jet-fuel blend, is extracted from sustainable feedstocks, non-edible natural oils and agricultural waste products. Once it's processed in Paramount, California, the biofuel is then used to fuel jets at the LAX airport. Up to 15 million gallons of the biofuel will be used over 3 years — enough to fuel the equivalent of 12,500 LAX-SFO flights.
Last year, we announced a historic $30 million equity investment in U.S.-based alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc., a pioneer in the development and commercialization of converting municipal solid waste into low-cost sustainable aviation biofuel. To date, our investment in Fulcrum is the single largest by any U.S. airline in alternative fuels.
The green team
Technological advances have already improved fuel efficiency in the air by more than one-third in the last two decades. We were the first airline in the world to fly with the split scimitar winglet technology that cuts fuel consumption by up to an additional 2 percent, and we continue to take delivery of new Boeing and Airbus aircraft that are 15 to 20 percent more fuel efficient than those they will replace. United now has more than 260 of these new, fuel-efficient aircraft on order — and an industry-wide switch to renewables like biofuel will also have a major impact. Still, aviation accounts for only two percent of global CO2 emissions. While we recognize that our carbon footprint happens in the air, most contributions to global warming happen on the ground, which is why United team members have been adopting and following sustainable practices for many years.
Our employees have recycled nearly 30 million pounds of plastic, paper and aluminum from flights and United facilities since 2008. Last year, through our upcycling initiative, an entire football field's worth of fabric banners at Chicago's O'Hare airport was turned into fashionable travel bags and later sold to benefit the Chicago-based Re:new Project and our United Eco-Skies CarbonChoice Alto Mayo Forest Carbon Project in Northern Peru. Efforts to reduce consumption are also being made at our airport locations — United employees at the San Francisco Maintenance Center cut water consumption by more than 30 percent during the recent California drought.
Gold, silver and green
Green-building innovations have earned new United facilities recognition, including a prestigious LEED Gold certification in San Francisco, a LEED Silver in Houston and acclaim for a massive "green roof" in Chicago — all in the last four years.
Taking the gold is the SFO Terminal 3 Boarding Area E (T3E). Natural lighting from windows and skylights helps T3E to reduce electricity requirements, photovoltaic panels deliver onsite renewable energy and the terminal also makes use of local and sustainable materials including recycled carpeting and glass. Claiming the silver is Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport Terminal B south concourse, which features an energy-efficient, 28-foot glass wall. And that green roof? It can be found atop the new cargo facility at Chicago's O'Hare airport. Besides sporting one of the largest vegetative living roofs in North America (109,000 square feet), the building incorporates leading-edge green features such as energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling, and even storm-water recycling. Existing United customer and employee facilities are also tweaked on a regular basis to make them more sustainable.
Coffee and cream
Starting this summer, we'll begin serving illy coffee on all United flights worldwide. Illy coffee is already being served at United Club SM locations at U.S. mainland hubs and will appear soon in all other United Club lounges this year. We're proud to serve illy, whose coffee-bean growers and processors earn above-market wages in exchange for following eco-friendly and sustainable-quality practices.
Cowshed Spa skin-care products are another recent addition to United flights. The award-winning, eco-friendly product line — including hand creams, lip treatments, moisturizing balms and towelettes — are found in many premium cabin amenity kits, as well as in United Club locations. Made in England, Cowshed uses organic and fair-trade extracts and essential oils to make their premium products. All products in their line are made from sustainable sources and natural botanicals and contain no parabens, petrochemicals, sulphates, animal ingredients (spare a little organic beeswax and wildflower honey), no artificial colors or fragrances and no animal testing.
Through our United Eco-Skies program we have partnered with a number of nonprofit organizations to enhance sustainability efforts. Sustainable Travel International manages our CarbonChoice offset program, with all proceeds going to worldwide projects curated by STI. Through our partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, scientists are flown to study native habitats around the world. Additionally, we also support the Clean Energy Trust Challenge, which awards annual grants to pioneers in energy efficiency and innovation.
MileagePlus members can receive bonus miles for consultations (5,000 miles) or purchases (25,000 miles) from NRG Home Solar in the five states where it operates, along with bonus miles for other sustainable products. These are just some of the investments we have made toward creating a more sustainable world; others range from clean-energy STEM education programs and EV charging programs to tree planting and adopt-a-stream projects.
Earth Day and beyond
The United team is committed to being a responsible global citizen all year — not just on Earth Day or during Earth Month. We have pledged to continue to boost our efforts to be an industry leader in seeking to reduce our carbon footprint while striving for sustainability. Sustainability at United applies to not only preserving our environment, but also to fostering community pride and celebrating diversity. Our team members on the ground and in the air are dedicated to protecting our planet and aim to preserve its health and richness every day.
We know people are taking a second look at their travel plans right now. If you're scheduled to travel March 10 – May 31, 2020 and would like to change your plans, there is no fee to do so, regardless of when you purchased your ticket or where you're traveling. This is in addition to our previous waiver, which waives all change fees – domestic and international – for tickets purchased March 3 – April 30, 2020. This is available for any of United's published nonrefundable fares. If you decide to cancel your flight, you can retain the value of your ticket to be applied to a new ticket without a fee. These electronic travel certificates are now valid for 24 months from the date they were issued. This includes all currently valid electronic certificates and all new ones issued on or after April 1, 2020. You might not see this policy change reflected everywhere right away – we appreciate your patience as we work to make that happen.
Eligible travelers on domestic flights and international tickets can request a refund on united.com or may call our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to COVID-19.
Certain tickets cannot be changed on united.com or the mobile app, including tickets booked through another airline (if the ticket receipt does not begin with 016). Please contact the original ticketing airline for changes.
Follow the steps below to stay up to date, change or cancel your flight.
Change your current flight:
- On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your flight information to retrieve your flight.
- Select "Change flight" and then "Edit" to make the following changes:
- Date of travel or destination
- Add a flight
- Remove a flight
- Select "Continue" and choose a new flight option
- Continue through booking to confirm your new flight
Note: The change fee will display as waived, but any difference in fare may apply.
Cancel your flight and rebook later:
- On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your reservation information to retrieve your flight
- Select "Cancel flight"
- Confirm flight cancellation
- If you have future flight credit, when you return to the reservation, select "Use Future Flight Credit" to shop for new flights and apply the credit towards a new flight.
Canceling or changing an award flight:
When you select "Cancel flight," you will have the option to cancel your award reservation and redeposit the miles or to cancel your award reservation and use those miles for another trip in the future.
*We're currently experiencing heavy traffic to united.com. If you experience an error while trying to change or cancel your flight, please try again later.
Click through the slideshow below for more detailed instructions:
Start on the United homepage:
User can select 'My Trips' on the homepage widget to find and retrieve their reservation.
When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.
We have operated more than 68 repatriation flights from Panama City, Guatemala City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, bringing nearly 9,200 people home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles and beginning April 5, we will begin operating multiple charter flights between Delhi and San Francisco. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.
Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.
Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:
- Quito, Ecuador
- Managua, Nicaragua
- Roatan, Honduras
- San Pedro Sula, Honduras
- Seoul, South Korea
- Melbourne, Australia
We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom, a video conferencing tool that many people are using to stay connected.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.