The United Airlines COVID-19 strategies and policies are designed to make business travel a little more normal this year and beyond.
When COVID-19 first started spreading around the world in early 2020, the travel industry slowed its fast pace to nearly a crawl. Flights were cancelled, and airlines scrambled to find safe ways to get passengers back into the air. United Airlines’ COVID-19 response continues to be one of the most aggressive in the industry, including measures taken to make travel as safe and convenient as possible for its customers.
On Feb. 24, 2021, United Airlines and JTB Business Travel hosted a webinar to share how the airline is helping its customers return to travel safely. Here’s a look at some of the key takeaways from the webinar.
A Positive Sign: Routes are Returning and Expanding
As noted above, airlines cancelled flights in bulk and even scaled back existing routes and plans for expansion in early 2020. United Airlines was no different, reducing its schedule and stopping service between specific countries due to border restrictions.
But there’s good news on this front: United is returning routes to its schedule and even expanding its service in some cases.
During the webinar, Tom Akamatsu, an Asia Pacific sales account manager for United, outlined the airline’s current service between the United States and destinations in the Asia Pacific region, including:
- Daily flights between San Francisco and Tokyo’s Narita International
- Flights between Newark and Tokyo Narita 5 days a week
- Flights between San Francisco and Seoul 4 days a week
- Flights between San Francisco and Shanghai 4 days a week
- Flights between San Francisco and Taipei 6 days a week
- Daily flights between San Francisco and Sydney
- Flights between Los Angeles and Sydney 5 days a week
While these regular flights are now available to United passengers, others remain suspended due to border restrictions and other factors. For example, United had planned to launch routes from US cities like Chicago and Houston to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. United had also planned to launch flights between San Francisco and Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, but those are on hold indefinitely.
There are new United routes launching domestically, too. On March 28, 2021, United will start flying from New York City’s JFK International Airport to San Francisco and Los Angeles — both 5 days a week. This means that United will now have a presence at all 3 major airports in the New York City area.
What United is Doing: Clean Plus and More
Again, airlines are extremely motivated to make traveling safe and convenient for passengers, and United is leading the way in taking measures to improve the travel experience during COVID-19.
In partnership with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic, United has launched a Clean Plus initiative to ensure that its planes are as sanitized as possible when new passengers board. United has also installed hospital-grade, high-efficiency filters on all of its planes — filters that remove up to 99.7% of airborne particles.
While at the airport waiting for a flight, United passengers can begin taking advantage of Agent on Demand. This program, now live at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, allows passengers to scan a QR code and access a customer service representative by call, text or video chat. This gives United customers access to support in the immediate area, but without risk of exposure.
United Club lounges are partially open in the airline’s hub airports — Newark, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and others. But almost all Club lounges in non-hub airports are closed for the time being. The same is true of Polaris lounges for long-haul flights — they remain closed for now.
To better support customers traveling in the age of COVID-19, United continues to offer flexibility for travel plans, including:
- No change fees for most economy and premium cabin tickets.
- No change fees for international travel originating in the United States
- The ability for all passengers to standby for earlier flights on the same day at no additional charge
These measures will be dynamic in response to the changing travel environment. Check the JTB Business Travel blog regularly for the latest information on what United is doing to support customers during this challenging time.
What Passengers Can Do: 4 Tips for Savvy Travel
Akamatsu also provided 4 tips for savvy travel during the webinar. United is going to great lengths to make flying as convenient and safe as possible for its passengers. But there are also things passengers can do proactively to ensure that they enjoy smooth travel experiences. Here are his 4 tips:
- Eat before going to the airport: About 50% of restaurants are closed at even the biggest airports, and in-flight food is pre-packaged. It’s best to eat before you travel so that you have greater control over your meal and so that you don’t get hungry in-flight.
- Bring TSA-approved hand sanitizer: You can now bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer on your flight. Yes, there are typically hand sanitizer dispensers at the airport, but it’s best to have your own stash while traveling.
- Download the United app: Trying to limit contact during your trip? The United app is your key to touchless travel. Make sure to download the app and register your flight information before leaving home.
- Wear a comfortable mask: United can provide a mask for you, but it’s best to bring your own. Wouldn’t you rather spend hours on a flight wearing a mask that you find comfortable than one that’s been given to you?
Visit United’s Travel-Ready Center
One of the greatest travel challenges in 2021 will be knowing where you can visit and what you can do once you arrive. United is trying to mitigate that challenge through its Travel-Ready Center, available to all passengers — no matter their destinations.
When passengers enter their ticket/confirmation number and last name, they gain access to the following information:
- Tests required to travel
- Documents required to travel
- Quarantines required upon arrival
- Social distancing and mask requirements
- Hotels, restaurants and other places of business that are generally open or closed
The Travel-Ready Center is available both through United.com and the United app. Passengers will receive reminder messages if they have not completed all of the tasks required to travel to their destinations. Passengers that have completed the tasks, like uploading test documentation, will receive less communication.
To further streamline the travel experience, United has lined up testing providers at on-site locations. United is also part of the CommonPass pilot program, which is designed to serve as a vaccination passport in countries around the world. Using CommonPass, passengers can display a QR code that leads to confirmation of their vaccination status. United pilots recently tested CommonPass on flights leaving the United Kingdom and arriving at Newark.
Get the Latest on United and COVID-19 Support From JTB Business Travel
Managing business travel for a company is a full-time job even when there’s no pandemic — the presence of COVID-19 only makes it harder. To get the latest on United Airlines’ COVID-19 policies, and to get general updates on the travel industry and everything you need to know, visit our Waypoint blog regularly.
JTB Business Travel is a travel management company that helps companies large and small save on travel spend while supporting their traveling team members. Behind every service we provide is a common-sense approach to business travel.
Contact us to learn more about what we can do as your travel management company.