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Leon Kaye headshot

Forced Out of the Friendly Skies, United Airlines Calls in to the Isolated

By Leon Kaye
United Airlines

We’ve been saying time and again, for any company to show it is socially responsible, especially during a pandemic, one of the first things it can do is deploy the resources it has at hand for good. We’re seeing that now with United Airlines in Northern California.

The airline recently announced it would partner with the nonprofit Listos California, an advocacy group that works on disaster preparedness plans for vulnerable communities across the Golden State. As part of California’s Social Bridging Project, approximately 300 United Airlines employees in San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles will make wellness calls to older California residents who already live alone and are now even more isolated due to the state’s shelter-in-place order.

The decision to have United’s employees involved makes absolute sense from a logistics point of view. These individuals are already well trained in customer service — and day after day during the best of times, call center employees have to deal with irate customers angry over delayed or canceled flights. While speaking to lonely and vulnerable citizens presents a different set of challenges, any experienced customer service representative should be able to take on such calls. Furthermore, while countless citizens want to volunteer their time but find it difficult to find such opportunities during this era of self-quarantining, United Airlines now has an opportunity to engage employees at a time when many have their own fears and worries.

According to Listos California, it was United that suggested this idea. “We are profoundly grateful to all of our compassionate employees who will be using their experience and training to bring some much-needed comfort to our state's most vulnerable residents during these difficult times," said Janet Lamkin, United Airlines’ regional president in California.

United’s previous relief efforts during this pandemic have included donating food and assisting with deliveries to food banks at its Houston hub. The airline has also arranged to fly medical volunteers to COVID-19 hotspots in New York, New Jersey and California.  And at a maintenance hub in San Francisco, employees have pivoted to make hand sanitizer.

Other airlines have stepped up as well. JetBlue has said it will do what it can to help get much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) to regions that need it.  In the western U.S., the Alaska Airlines’ foundation has donated meals and pledged financial contributions to food banks to fight hunger. Yet United could provide other airlines ideas on how to leverage one of their greatest assets: their call centers.

Image credit: United Airlines/3BL Media

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye