Safety in Ethics and governance

United works collaboratively to drive safety and health excellence every day, everywhere, for everyone — our employees and our customers.

Prioritizing safety first

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 standards ensure safety remains our absolute top priority, no matter the situation. As such, it is supported by rigorous compliance and governance, detailed operational procedures and policies, comprehensive monitoring and a personal responsibility by, from and to every employee across United to hold each other to the highest standards.

Our Safety Management System

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 safety, risk and achieve the highest level of safety performance throughout the company. United’s SMS is the 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.

Components of our Safety Management System

The SMS is designed around predictive, proactive and reactive assessment and action. It’s built around 4 key components:

  • Safety policy

    Senior management involvement and advocacy; clear roles, responsibilities and relationships; procedures and controls

  • Safety risk management

    System description and task analysis; threat and hazard identification; risk analysis and assessment; controlling risk

  • Safety assurance

    Performance monitoring and measurement; data acquisition process; analysis and assessment; management of change; continuous improvement

  • Safety promotion

    Safety cultures; competencies and training; communication and awareness

The SMS is governed by the CEO of United Airlines, our defined Accountable Executive. It is implemented, overseen and cascaded by the Corporate Safety team and delivered by divisional teams, with regular training and monitoring. 

Safety in action – response to Covid 19

The SMS was engrained in our culture before the pandemic and 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 since 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.
  • Created the industry-leading Travel Ready Center in January 2021 that enabled our customers to to seamlessly navigate the ever-changing world of country health restrictions. 
  • First airline to safely transport the first delivery of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine into the U.S.
  • 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.
  • First U.S. airline to announce a vaccine mandate for all our employees

Constant improvement

Today our Safety Management System is stronger, more efficient and driving our safety-first culture at United. As United and the Industry experiences a “bounce back” from the pandemic and grow, we are utilizing our Safety Management System to proactively identify hazards in some of the following areas:

  • Aircraft Induction
  • Gate expansion
  • Equipment onboarding
  • Staffing growth and training requirements
  • Baggage room efficiency
  • Hybrid work model
  • Removal of delay codes
  • 5G interference

We continue to innovate by 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 This is accomplished through identifying 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.

Safety data

OSHA recordable injury rate1

  • 2018: 5.58
  • 2019: 4.26
  • 2020: 3.36
  • 2021: 4.53
  • 2021 Target rate: 3.19

Lost-time injuries rate1

  • 2018: 2.81
  • 2019: 2.02
  • 2020: 1.64
  • 2021: 2.07
  • 2021 Target rate: 1.56

Mainline aircraft damage rate2

  • 2018: 1.29
  • 2019: 1.22
  • 2020: 1.39
  • 2021: 1.44
  • 2021 Target rate: 1.25


  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, 2022