Corporate social responsibility, or CSR for short, had become a hot topic prior to Covid-19.
In August 2019, the Business Roundtable — a group of prominent American CEOs — published a statement to redefine a corporation’s purpose, abandoning the notion that shareholders always come first.
The group, which includes the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta, and United, outlined five new priorities, including commitments to employees, suppliers, and the communities where they operate.
This was a big step — and though some criticized it as merely a PR move instead of a shift in strategy — the pre-pandemic tides were changing towards a more balanced approach to corporate citizenship.
Covid-19’s devastating impact on airline financial performance is a true test of whether companies are serious about this new definition of corporate citizenship and their CSR efforts.
Safe Travel Guide primarily evaluates airlines and hotels on their safety policies — from mask wearing to cleanliness to social distancing to cancellation — we aim to help you travel safely and responsibly in the new era of travel.
But understanding how each airline acts towards its employees, customers, and society at large during a crisis is related and important.
While we recognize that each airline must make difficult decisions during the pandemic to ensure ongoing business viability, the sum of its citizenship efforts — and the way it communicates them — has a tangible, long-term impact on its brand trust.
And as we’ll explain, brand trust is becoming the defining currency for airlines, hotels, and really all brands.
Especially during dark times that brands are expected to be beacons of trust, and corporate social responsibility efforts are no longer nice-to-have afterthoughts, but foundational components of airline’s brand DNA.
From employee safety and support to helping the community via healthcare worker and humanitarian flights, here’s what airlines are doing for their employees, customers, and partners in terms of corporate citizenship.
Keeping employees on the frontlines safe is paramount. While some airlines received complaints from their flight attendants about lacking PPE in the early weeks of the pandemic, the vast majority of airlines surveyed provide PPE to frontline employees
As airlines face bleak financial conditions, layoffs and furloughs are inevitable. But being generous and creative in times of crisis gets noticed. Delta has offered employees buyouts and early retirement to reduce costs, and has added extended health care benefits and free flights to the separation packages, which were not part of its retirement plans pre-pandemic.
An Edelman survey on consumer trust found that 90% of customers want brands to protect the well-being and safety of their employees and suppliers, even if it has a negative impact on financial performance until the pandemic ends.
And Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer explains that employer communications are critical during the pandemic, as employees place more trust in them relative to other communication sources: 63% of employees surveyed said they believe information from their employer’s coronavirus communications after 1-2 exposures, versus 58% for a government website and 51% for traditional media.
Loyalty Program Updates
In addition to rebooking and cancellation policies, customers expect airlines to revise frequent flyer program policies given limited travel and international restrictions during COVID-19.
82% of airlines have extended elite status in some way. Most have done so through 2021.
9% of airlines have reduced elite qualifying requirements, including British Airways and Emirates.
And another 9% of airlines award members bonus points to compensate for lost months of travel, including Cathay Pacific and Etihad.
Helping the Community
For society at large, airlines have a unique role to play during a pandemic. From connecting healthcare workers to in-need communities, to helping citizens return home from abroad, to moving medical supplies around the world, airlines have been a key part of the global response to Covid-19.
Health officials in the U.K. and Sweden asked furloughed cabin crew from airlines like EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic to assist medical teams in temporary hospitals fighting coronavirus.
Given flight attendants’ medical training, they were able to redeploy their skills given low travel demand.
61% of airlines communicated about humanitarian, rescue, or medical shuttle flights within their own country.
JetBlue and Qatar Airways each committed to giving away 100,000 complimentary roundtrip flights to frontline healthcare workers.
American, Delta, Southwest, and United have all donated substantial amounts of unused food from lounges and inflight meals to out-of-work and in-need individuals.
Several airlines match charitable frequent flyer mile donations. United launched #GivingTuesdayNow matching donations of up to 500,000 miles to non-profit organizations that rely on travel during Covid-19.
Lufthansa Group: Guaranteed Returns
When COVID-19 first spiked, travelers outside of their home country panicked. To assuage fears of this happening again and encourage travel during the summer and beyond, Lufthansa Group, which runs Lufthansa, Austrian and Swiss, has guaranteed intra-Europe travelers’ return flights.
Lufthansa calls the initiative “Bring me Home.”
As an example, if a passenger books a ticket from Munich to Lisbon, and Portugal implements coronavirus travel restrictions during the trip, Lufthansa will guarantee the traveler’s safe return home via either a commercial or repatriation flight.
Lufthansa has partnered with AXA Partners to provide insurance and medical assistance throughout the trip to passengers booking full fare economy or business saver tickets. The insurance coverage protects passengers tho fall ill while traveling abroad.
Corporate Social Responsibility & Brand Trust
Safe travel today is about concrete, clear health and safety protocols and fair and flexible cancellation policies.
But airline corporate responsibility is related and often an indicator of competent management. The airlines taking leadership positions in CSR amid the pandemic are prioritizing employees and society at large over profits. People are noticing.
The tumultuous times of 2020-2021 are repositioning airline brands — and brands across industries — based on their responses to the pandemic. Airlines that are decisive in growing brand trust will likely increase market share in the years that follow Covid-19.
So while you should always know your airline’s safety policies, it’s also a good idea to understand whether its corporate social responsibility is taken seriously in the board room.