I went to the United Airlines stockholder meeting in Arlington, Virginia today to deliver a letter from more than 500 elite flyers and 85,000 petitions from everyday flyers to United CEO Jeff Smisek calling on the airline to stop blocking action on climate change.
Unfortunately, United has been spending its money on stopping Europe from applying its carbon cap to highly polluting international flights, fighting action to curtail airplane pollution under the Clean Air Act, and weakening and delaying meaningful action by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to establish a global program to curb aviation climate pollution. Included in our massive binder of names of flyers from all over the world were the names of more than 2700 premier status members of United’s frequent flier program, Mileage Plus.
The good news is that all the signers should know that their concerns were heard at the highest possible level! I got there early, and was rewarded by getting the opportunity to meet Mr. Smisek and present the letters personally to him before he entered the meeting. I introduced myself and the Flying Clean campaign and talked about United’s strong incentive to act on climate change - especially since their most important customers are speaking out and saying that they expect better.
And there are many reasons to act, which shouldn’t be lost on the major stockholders at today’s meeting. Climate change seriously threatens United’s bottom line: the airline lost $90 million in revenue just from Hurricane Sandy. Just this Monday, the International Energy Agency reported that the world is on track to a nine degree rise in temperature without immediate action.
After meeting Mr. Smisek, I spoke to United’s General Counsel, who added that they had seen the press coverage of our campaign launch, and said that United would be interested in following up.
I hope United responds formally to the letter from some of its most valuable customers soon – and stops using lawsuits and lobbyists to block reasonable efforts to reduce the aviation industry’s outsized climate impact. This one industry, after all, emits so much pollution that if it were a country, it would rank as the world’s seventh largest polluter. And it’s pollution is on pace to double by 2020, making aviation one of the fastest growing emissions sources in the world.
At today’s shareholder meeting, Smisek is expected to discuss how he wants to make United a leader in innovation and caring for its most loyal flyers. I hope he starts by getting United on board with serious climate action.