How airlines navigate the COVID-19 crisis will directly influence their future success. It is a defining moment: survive, thrive, or expire. How does United Airlines aim to not only survive this pandemic but continue working toward their goal of becoming the best airline on the planet? Roger Hale sat down with Jake Cefolia, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales at United, to get the inside scoop.
Building Confidence Is Key

Since most organizational decisions to travel do not ultimately rest with the individual traveler, it’s important to instill confidence in internal management teams. United believes its dual-approach to build traveler confidence as well as confidence within executive teams and travel management companies will serve its mission well.

To help with its confidence building, United has implemented United Clean Plus, which goes above and beyond to help ensure the utmost hygiene and safety when flying United. “Part of this United Clean Plus initiative was to partner with really well-respected brands in health and safety. And one of those is Clorox…a lot of our disinfection techniques and products now are coming from that partnership with Clorox. And then Cleveland clinic is going to be an ongoing partner to ours. As we continue to learn more about COVID, we’re going to be able to continue to create more and more safety practices,” said Cefolia. The systematic industry-leading program includes everything from health questionnaires at check in and mask enforcement policies to hand sanitizer and hand wipes available for travelers to clean their own space.

Staying the Course on NDC

While COVID-19 still holds the vast majority of industry attention, many can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen to innovation and tech plans? With a 95–98% drop in revenue, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that technology investments were put on hold, specifically New Distribution Capability (NDC), but Cefolia said that’s not the case at United: “We’re staying the course on NDC…we actually are far enough along with the investments that we’ve already made…so we are full speed ahead and continuing to respond to clients. In fact, we’ve seen an upsurge in interest in that for many of our TMC partners.” While NDC may be full speed ahead, Cefolia did concede that some technology investments may be deferred.

Recovery Forecast

In a recent earnings call, United shared some thoughts on what the recovery forecast might look like for the airline, something travel managers and others in the industry are certainly curious about. Although no one can outline this recovery’s trajectory with certainty, Cefolia did elaborate on United’s recovery forecast possibilities. “We think the most likely scenario is that until there’s a vaccine, we’ll get to about 50% of previous demand levels and just kind of flat line until there’s a vaccine that gives everybody that confidence…to kind of get back to life as it were before,” Cefolia said.

The Future Is Bright

By all accounts, the future is bright at United and the airline is taking the right steps to emerge from the crisis in a very good place. To learn more about the latest United happenings, including the next generation storefront, their differentiated traveler experience, and the many ways they’re taking care of their travelers, be sure to listen to the podcast.