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Responsible Airlines

Some of them care about minority rights, while others just survive

«I'm So Excited», Pedro Almodóvar

Airlines use a variety of different methods in order to win their passengers’ loyalty and demonstrate their public prominence. Some of them buy textbooks for schoolchildren from poor families, others switch to biofuel and recycled materials, while some prefer not take additional responsibility and are simply surviving. An air company’s social policy, active or indifferent, largely depends on the company’s home region, believes HSE expert Natalia Goncharova. On the basis of her research, the IQ.HSE editorial office determined seven types of global airlines.

Trendy Liberals

The policies of five traffic-leading European and North Atlantic airlines reflect the most recent liberal trends. They are Lufthansa, British Airlines, Air France, Ryanair and Turkish Airlines.

All of them are striving to implement principles of diversity and equal opportunities for employees and contractors. The companies are equally active in supporting minorities and providing equal career opportunities for men and women.

They care about local communities through the creation of new jobs and by providing humanitarian aid. The latter mostly takes the form of money transfers or air carriage of vital items.

In terms of decreasing the negative impact on the environment, the airlines’ initiatives are aimed at complying with the regulations and optimizing resources. These companies are not ready to invest in activities that do not increase their efficiency.

Rich Snobs

This cohort includes American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and AirCanada. Their home region is North and Central America.

They are different from the previous group because in their documents, they do not refer to regulations, but rather emphasize the voluntary character of their activities related to social responsibility. This is characteristic for all of them, except AirCanada.

The key field in these companies’ social responsibility is security. In addition to this, they invest in biofuel development and are taking measures to decrease the volume of carbon dioxide emissions. But they are not interested in cooperating with non-profit organizations in the environmental field.

Charity plays an important role in these companies’ policies. They donate to various foundations and are particularly active in supporting veterans, the military, and members of their families.

They are also interested in staff loyalty, implementing such staff incentives such as sharing stock dividends.

And of course, passenger comfort remains an important part of these companies’ policies. These airlines actively develop onboard entertainment systems and Wi-Fi accessibility.

Independent Hard Workers

South American airlines are not rich, but have an independent spirit. The five leaders are LATAM Airlines Brazil, Avianca, Gol, Azul and Aerolineas Argentinas.

This region’s air carriers can be split into two groups: one takes on social responsibility voluntarily, while the other follows legal provisions. Interestingly, the airlines do not hide their problems and failures in following the regulator’s requirements in their reports. (Reports by airlines in other regions instead look like advertising materials aimed at promoting brand loyalty). Here, the corporate culture features the principle of each employee’s responsibility for their own and the passengers’ safety and security.

These companies pay increased attention to workplace hygiene. This is related to unsanitary conditions in some South American countries and widespread contagious diseases. Various lectures and workshops are organized for staff as a preventive measure.

These companies aim to make their flights as affordable as possible, so they actively develop new routes and systems of discounts on airfares.

However, the South American air companies are not ready to voluntarily participate in state initiatives and take on additional responsibility.

Generous Patrons

The leaders of the Asian-Pacific market in terms of civil aviation are China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Air China, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

These companies have no mutual concept of social responsibility, but all of them work in three directions: following the law, improving their risk and efficiency management systems, and voluntary initiatives.

A lot of attention is paid to charity work, particularly that aimed at increasing access to education (scholarships, grants for air tickets, purchases of school uniform and textbooks), and medicine.

These airlines are interested in expanding the geography of their flights and open new routes to underdeveloped regions, where they actively invest in local infrastructure (by building airports and roads, and cultivating land for planting). These companies also provide humanitarian aid.

In addition, all five airlines are involved in preventing the trade in illegal wildlife.

These air companies take care of their employees’ needs. To develop the staff’s creativity, they open hobby clubs and organize corporate events.

Accommodative Bosses

The leaders in the Middle Eastern countries are such airlines as Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Saudia and El Al Airlines. They participate extensively in solving the problems of regional development and local community well-being.

These companies support national projects, organize international events in their home countries, and invest in accessible education. They also take action to conserve wildlife.

Their priority is not security, but rather the comfort of their passengers, both onboard and during airport procedures. This manifests itself in simplified check-in processes, improved loyalty programmes, and an individual approach to clients.

In general, the Middle Eastern air companies understand corporate social responsibility as voluntary measures aimed at improving their operations and the local community’s well-being. In their reports, they do not refer to legal requirements, nor do they mention anti-corruption and environmental protection issues, except for the Israeli El Al Airlines.

Surviving Volunteers

African airlines’ behavior is full of good intentions, while their implementation is somewhat irregular and weak. These companies are Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Arik Air and Air Mauritius.

They understand social responsibility as volunteering, mostly related to wildlife conservation, local community development, and humanitarian aid. However, the information on their specific initiatives is published irregularly. These companies do not report their actions, but only declare their intentions, such as to purchase more environment-friendly aircrafts, and refer to the global experience.

Patriotic Vassals

The Russian market is dominated by three companies of the Aeroflot Group (Aeroflot Russian Airlines, Rossiya, and Pobeda), as well as S7 and Ural Airlines. Despite being based in the same region as ‘Trendy Liberals’ (Europe and North Atlantic), Russian air companies have different priorities in their social policies.

Their main priority is staff development: education and motivation, health and social protection (the companies develop retirement plans and housing programmes for their employees).

As part of their charity operations, the airlines help children and support national holidays, particularly Victory Day.

To support local socio-economic activities, these air companies create jobs in the regions of their operations. They also play an active role in the development of the Russian Far East. This can be explained by state subsidies for air transportation on these routes.

Russian companies provide almost no reports on increasing flight security. This can lead to the conclusion that it is not their priority.

In terms of the environment, the Russian Top-5 follows the global trend: the companies modernize their aircraft, optimize routes and increase energy efficiency in general. But, like their foreign colleagues, they are not ready to make any extra steps beyond that necessary to optimize their own business processes.

Interestingly enough, the Aeroflot Group is the only one that reports on their activities in corporate social responsibility. The other air carriers, according to the researcher, have not yet ‘matured’ enough to understand the importance of publishing such information for stakeholders and passengers.


Author of the study:
Natalia Goncharova, expert at the HSE Research and Study Laboratory for Studies in Business Communications
Author: Alena Tarasova, August 05, 2019