When named the new president of United Airlines on May 20, 2020, Brett Hart, ’91, became the first African American president in the airline’s 94-year history. What’s more, he took the helm during the travel industry’s most challenging time. With the holidays approaching and families hoping to reunite, Michigan Alumnus reached out to Hart to ask him several travel-related questions.
Why should people feel safe about flying again, particularly with COVID-19 infections still on the rise?
First, it’s important that people know that it’s always been safe to fly. But, in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, we’ve overhauled our safety and cleaning procedures to meet the needs of travelers and partnered with experts at Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic to put measures in place that are industry leading. We have touchless kiosks at check in, social distancing at the gate and during boarding, and mandatory masks onboard, and are using electrostatic and antimicrobial sprayers to clean our aircraft. We also require passengers to complete a health self-assessment before they travel, just to name a few.
Recently, the Department of Defense (DOD) published a landmark study that found that the risk of COVID-19 exposure on an aircraft is virtually nonexistent. The study was conducted entirely on board United Airlines aircraft and found that fast onboard air recirculation, downward designed air ventilation, and efficient HEPA filters make the cabin of a United airplane one of the safest indoor environments in the world.
How have you personally found flying to be during the pandemic?
The decision to travel right now is a personal one, but I’ve taken numerous flights since this pandemic started and have felt comfortable and safe during every trip. My family and I take the same health precautions we advise to all our customers. The DOD study I just mentioned confirmed that mask utilization, in addition to the innate flow of air on board an aircraft, result in very low chances of exposure, even if the flight is full.
How would you tell passengers to best prepare for a flight this holiday season?
There are some changes to be prepared for if you haven’t flown yet during the pandemic, but you shouldn’t need to spend any extra time at the airport. A mask is the most important thing for your packing list, as it’s required both in the airport and on board the flight. At United, we’ve also added features into our app to help customers save time and limit direct contact with others; you can use the app to check in for a flight, check luggage, and get flight-status notifications, and more.
As president of United, what has made you most proud of the airline, and the travel industry, when it comes to responding to COVID-19?
This pandemic has been the biggest challenge United – and our industry – has ever faced, and as a result, we had to make very difficult decisions to ensure the survival of our company. But, amid this challenge, our United team came together to completely transform nearly every facet of the travel experience to help keep employees and customers safe.
And although we have no doubt that the road back to “normal” will be long and hard, our ability to meet this challenge head-on these past few months gives us the confidence now to turn the corner, focus squarely on our recovery, and think about how to accelerate on the other side. I take great pride in the dedication, ingenuity, and heart our employees have shown during this crisis. I am confident we will emerge a stronger, better airline.