Eco-friendly in United's Friendly Skies - United Hub
eco-skies

Eco-friendly in the friendly skies

By Bob Cooper, April 22, 2016

A United Eco-Skies Plane Fueling at LAX

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.

Green partners

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.

Why we fly

By The Hub team, November 27, 2020

In October 2019, we launched a first-of-its-kind airline miles donation platform, Miles on a Mission. In the inaugural year, MileagePlus members donated over 70 million miles, with United matching over 20 million miles, to 51 organizations. These miles have allowed for these organizations to do important, life-changing, life-saving work in the communities we serve around the globe.

United cargo connects products to people all over the world this holiday season

By The Hub team, November 23, 2020

Critical medical shipments – Check.

High-tech electronics – Check.

2.7 million pounds of lobster? Check.


While this year's holiday gatherings will look a little different, millions of people around the world will still carry on the tradition of celebrating the holidays with a meal.

As the appetite for different types of food from all over the world increases, so does the need for safe and reliable transport. Fish caught in the United Kingdom can depart at breakfast and arrive in Washington D.C. in time for dinner. Thanks to United Cargo's expansive network, we are longer constrained by global distance or the seasonality of a product,

United Cargo plays a big role in transporting shipments with a limited shelf life around the world. Packed in between the latest electronics from Asia and the hottest fashion items from Europe, our aircraft carry a variety of perishable shipments like flowers, fruit, meat and vegetables, where speed and careful handling keeps them fresh. Whether it's cherries from Washington State or vegetables from Peru, our temperature-controlled shipping processes and vast global network helps move these commodities all over the world.

While the holidays are an exceptionally busy time of year for shipping perishable items, United Cargo transports these critical goods for people all over the world year-round. Earlier this year, United Cargo moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program to support communities impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, with the holiday season here, we anticipate the cargo holds of our aircraft to be full of grocery store replenishments, including staples like turkey and ham, hitting shelves across the globe.

We take pride in our role to make sure perishables and produce arrive on time and at the peak of freshness. These products sustain, feed and nurture the world, and consumers around the globe depend on them every single day.

Since March 19, United has operated nearly 8,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 272 million pounds of cargo on those flights alone. United Cargo is proud of the role we play maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access commodities from all over the globe.

Bon appetit!

10 travel tips for the holiday season

By The Hub team, November 19, 2020

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your holiday travels, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, payments and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check and touch-free onboard payments.

2. Read and sign the Ready-to-Fly checklist

Before completing check-in, all United travelers will need to read our Ready-to-Fly checklist and confirm that they understand and agree to our policies. These include:

  • Acknowledging that you haven't had any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • Agreeing that you will not fly if you have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 21 days
  • Confirming that you will follow all policies regarding face coverings, social distancing and other health and safety measures we've adopted

3. Get familiar with CleanPlus

United CleanPlus℠ is our commitment to delivering industry-leading* cleanliness, plus putting health and safety at the forefront of your experience, in partnership with Clorox and Cleveland Clinic. We've implemented CleanPlus in a number of ways that you'll notice throughout your trip, as well as with some behind-the-scenes enhancements like:

  • Disinfecting high-touch areas on board and in the terminal
  • Using electrostatic spraying, Ultraviolet C lighting wands and more advanced measures to clean aircraft cabins before boarding
  • Redesigning our mobile app to allow for touchless check-in and contactless payment, along with enhanced travel assistance features

Studies show COVID-19 exposure risk is minimal when air filtration systems and masks are in use, so you can rest assured that the steps we've taken to keep you safe truly make a difference.

4. Don't forget essential documents

We've made a list of travel requirements and restrictions for every destination that you can check twice, or as often as you need before your trip. Just visit united.com/travelrequirements to get the details on COVID-19 testing, health documents and other things you may need before you fly.

5. Wear your mask

You may not notice our smile behind our face covering, but you can be sure that we're appreciative of all our travelers who arrive to the airport with their mask on, and continue to wear it over their nose and mouth at all times in the airport and on board. Make sure you review our requirements for face coverings, including what an acceptable face covering looks like. Bonus points if your mask infuses some holiday cheer!

6. A better boarding process for your safety

If you haven't flown with us in a while, you might want to get familiar with our new boarding process. To make boarding even safer, we now have travelers board their aircraft from back to front. At the gate, just listen for your row number to be called – we'll ask a few rows at a time to board, starting with the last row of the plane. This helps everyone maintain a safe distance from each other during boarding without slowing things down. As you step onto the plane, flight attendants will hand each passenger a sanitizing towelette, which you can use to wipe down your seat to ensure it's extra clean.

7. Pack smart

Before packing your bags, check to see what exactly you can carry on and what you should plan to check. You can also copy your confirmation number into our Baggage Calculator tool to learn about the bag allowance included with your reservation, as well as the cost of checking any additional bags.

8. Check your flight status, important notices and weather

Check the United app regularly for the latest updates, weather conditions, flight status, gate and seat assignments. You can also visit our Important Notices page to find essential information and updates about travel waivers, international travel, TSA and security, airports and United Club locations.

9. Arrive early; avoid the stress

Airports can be busy, especially during the holidays. The TSA advises arriving at the airport two hours before your flight for domestic travel and three hours for international travel in anticipation of long security lines. This can help ease the stress when navigating busy check-in areas, security lines and crowded boarding gates.

10. Relax and enjoy your flight

Once you're on board, it's time to sit back and enjoy your flight. Our flight attendants will be happy to help you with anything else you need.

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