Safety at United
United works collaboratively to drive safety and health excellence every day, everywhere, for everyone — our employees and our customers.
Safety is a shared responsibility and we believe our actions and choices impact others. Knowing that we work in challenging and dynamic environments across the globe, our core4 values ensure safety remains our absolute top priority, no matter the situation.
We fulfill this promise through United’s Safety Management System (SMS), our comprehensive, formalized approach to managing the safety of everyone at United.
Through our SMS, we seek to manage risk and achieve the highest level of safety performance throughout the company. SMS is our framework that ensures we’re committing to safety standards, communicating across divisions and departments, identifying hazards and confirming that our mitigations are working properly.
This collaboration takes place on existing standards and on future endeavors, like our environmental initiatives, to ensure we achieve our goals safely.
SMS was engrained in our culture before the pandemic and it has served as the primary tool for managing significant and unprecedented changes to our airline due to COVID-19. Examples of this include adapting the airline around massive reductions in passengers, programs for putting aircraft into long-term storage, moving employees to remote work locations, and managing frequent changes to health and safety initiatives and regulations.
Through our strong SMS, in the face of the pandemic challenge in 2020, United drove many innovations to lead the industry in an effort for customer and employee safety and compliance.
- Only airline to partner with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and Air Mobility Command (AMC) to study how effectively the unique airflow configuration on board an aircraft can prevent the spread of aerosolized particles among passengers and crew.
- First airline to safely transport the first delivery of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine into the U.S.
- First U.S. airline to launch a COVID-19 testing program for customers traveling on United from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii.
- First major U.S. airline to require masks on board when COVID-19 began. In the third quarter of 2020, extended mask requirements to airport terminals.
- One of the first U.S. airlines to enforce policy banning customers for refusing to follow mask requirements.
- First major U.S. airline to ask all passengers to complete a health self-assessment during check-in based on recommendations from Cleveland Clinic.
- Launched United CleanPlusSM to reinforce the company's commitment to putting health and safety at the forefront of the entire customer experience, with the goal of delivering an industry-leading standard of cleanliness, including partnerships with Clorox and experts from Cleveland Clinic.
- First airline to maximize ventilation systems by running the auxiliary power on mainline aircraft during the entire boarding and deplaning process, so customers and crew get the important safety benefits provided by high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems.
As part of our pandemic response, we continue to innovate in using data to enable safety through shared use and analysis to improve risk-based decisions and predictive identification of hazards for all aspects of safety.
One way is through our key safety objectives from each operating group. Designed to reduce the company’s safety risk, safety objectives are outcome-based performance targets that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based.
Another way we measure safety is through occupational injuries or illnesses and aircraft damages. Since 2017, we have exceeded our targets on OSHA recordable injuries (injuries or illnesses that result in days away from work, job transfer, restricted work, require medical treatment beyond first aid, or meet certain other criteria) and lost-time injuries (LTIs). In 2020, however, we experienced an increase in distraction-related incidents, which we define as an occurrence other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft, which affects or could affect the safety of operations. An incident may involve circumstances indicating that there was a high probability of an accident associated with the operation of an aircraft. We are working to mitigate them collaboratively.
2020 YE Metrics
OSHA recordable injury rate
Lost-time injuries rate
Mainline aircraft damage rate
1 Number of injuries per 200,000 hours worked
2 Number of damages per 10,000 departures
Note: Data is year-end rates as of January 18, 2021
At United, our highest priority is safety and that’s why it’s the first of our core4 standards. Running the safest operation and providing a healthy environment for every customer and employee are non-negotiable standards to which we hold ourselves and our partner organizations, without exception. United strives to be the global airline safety leader.