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United's COVID Evolution

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

In 2019, United introduced its evolution livery. An evolution that represented years of hard work, new labor agreements, unprecedented growth, and a new chapter in the airline's history. A year later, the livery now seems to represent another type evolution; the airline's policies, now evolving in response to an unprecedented crisis. The crisis which now unfolds has put the brakes on new products and future growth, not only for United, but for the entire aviation industry. Over a matter of months, United, like other carriers, watched almost helplessly as the global industry collapsed. The airline was quick to react to the unfolding crisis with austerity measures, securing loans, slashing executive salaries and offering unpaid leaves, perhaps realizing quicker than most, that the crisis was indeed more serious than the US Federal Government seemed ready to acknowledge.

United made several service changes, and changes to their cleaning and sanitization practices. In addition to these earlier changes, United announced last week that it has undertaken many additional steps in efforts to curb the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and for the safety of its customers and employees.

Such changes include:

  • The extensive use of electrostatic spraying on all inbound long-haul international flights, and mainline overnight aircraft at U.S. hubs. By June, the airline states that all aircraft will have electrostatic spray on every departure, in addition to disinfecting customer touch points and surfaces before every flight.

  • Enhanced on-board cleaning procedures

  • Making disinfectant available for employees to clean and sanitize high-touchpoint areas

Onboard, United is also making the following changes:

  • Requiring Flight Attendants to wear masks on board as of April 24th 2020

  • Limiting advance seat selection and Complimentary Premiere Upgrades (CPU's)

  • Fulfilling CPU's at the gate, prior to boarding, in order to facilitate social distancing

  • Slowing the pace of the boarding process to avoid crowding on jetways.

  • Suspending the sale of buy on board products in economy

  • Suspending hot beverage / coffee / tea service, aircraft wide

  • Serving only sealed beverages aircraft-wide

While United is not alone in beefing up mask provisioning for its crew members and frontline employees, it is the first US carrier to make the use of masks on board, a requirement for Cabin Crew. This represents a dramatic shift in policy across the U.S. industry as, until recently, cabin crew were only allowed to wear masks when flying to-from known COVID-19 hotspots. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents United's flight attendants, while applauding the move, called for mask requirements to extend also to customers, in addition to calls for 'leisure travel' to be suspended. United is also conducting temperature checks for frontline employees at its hubs, with plans under evaluation for the expansion of this program.

Many of these changes are taking place around the globe, as the entire industry races to adapt to the ever evolving information about COVID-19, its effects and spread. While the U.S economy continues to flounder against the backdrops of conflicted policies, enacted by individual states, it is clear that a great many more changes to both policy and operation are on the horizon.


DISCLAIMER: The Greater Inflight Network (GIN) is a conglomeration of bloggers, which includes travel industry employees. See full text here.

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