All Routes Lead to Love: How United Airlines Brings the World Together

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 25, 2019

Since its first flight in 1926 — a tiny Swallow biplane that flew from Pasco, Washington, to Boise, Idaho — United Airlines has been intent on making the planet a little bit smaller and us all a little bit closer. With a mission to "connect people and unite the world," the company has continued to innovate and excel through the ensuing decades.

In 1984, United became the first carrier to fly to all 50 states, and in 1997 it joined with Lufthansa, Air Canada and others to form the ground-breaking Star Alliance, at that time the only true worldwide airline partnership.

Today, United boasts the globe's most extensive route network, together with United Express operating some 4,800 flights a day across five continents. Just as crucially, the company continues to bring people together on earth and in the air through a corporate culture of passionate inclusivity that embraces the LGBTQ community.

Sky-High Support for the Queer Community

The first airline to recognize domestic partnership in 1999, United continues to blaze trails by providing non-binary gender options during the booking process. Thanks to a change initiated this March, ticket purchasers may now identify themselves as M(male), F(female), U(undisclosed) or X(unspecified), corresponding to their I.D. Customers may also select the title "Mx" during booking and in their Mileage Plus profile.

"United is determined to lead the industry in LGBT inclusivity, and we are so proud to be the first U.S. airline to offer these inclusive booking options for our customers," says United's Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist. "United is excited to share with our customers, whether they identify along the binary of male or female or not, that we are taking steps to exhibit our care for them while also providing additional employee training to make us even more welcoming for all customers and employees."

It Starts From Within

That training, which is taking place under the guidance of the Human Rights Campaign, and The Trevor Project and will educate employees in subjects like preferred pronouns and the persistence of gender norms, is the kind of initiative that has long helped earn United high marks from LGBTQ organizations.

In March, the company announced that for the eighth year in a row, it received a 100 percent score on HRC's 2019 Corporate Equality Index (CEI). A month later, United added a "Best-of-the-Best" designation from the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the National Business Inclusion Consortium, and in June became the first public company to be inducted into Pride Live's Stonewall Ambassador program.

United earns those accolades by engaging externally as well as internally with the queer community. The company is a strong supporter of LGBTQ organizations in its hub cities, especially Chicago, where the company works with Equality Illinois and The Center on Halsted, as well as San Francisco, where it's developed partnerships with the Gay Men's Chorus and the LGBT Center.

The carrier also maintains relationships with Pride celebrations, like the just-wrapped Honolulu Pride, though United Airlines Spokesperson Andrea Hiller, stresses, "United strongly believes that supporting and promoting the LGBTQ+ community is a year-round commitment that stems from our values. We are looking at how to recruit and retain amazing LGBTQ+ talent... Our employee business resource group, EQUAL, continues to grow across the world as we also work with partner organizations to identify more ways for United to continue building a more inclusive and caring workplace and customer experience."

Oh, the Places You'll Go

United Airlines also excels in providing a product that adventurous queer travelers want, like flights to emerging LGBTQ destinations far beyond their backyard. That includes India, where the country's Supreme Court decriminalized same-sex relations last year.

United offers daily non-stop service between Newark and Delhi and Mumbai and will debut seasonal non-stop service between San Francisco and Delhi in December. The carrier will kick off non-stop service in December from Newark to Curaçao, which serves up one of the Caribbean's hottest Pride celebrations. The airline also provides direct daily roundtrip flights Houston to Quito, Ecuador, which legalized same-sex marriage this summer.

"We want all customers to feel comfortable and welcome on board no matter how they self-identify or who they love, and it's exciting that so many destinations that we serve around the world are opening their hearts and minds to our LGBTQ+ customers," Hiller says. "At United, we believe all routes lead to love."

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.

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