United Airlines is making a major change to the way it trains its employees

  • United Airlines and the Special Olympics are expanding their partnership.
  • United with the help of the Special Olympics will train all of its employees on how to make flying more positive experience for people with intellectual disabilities.
  • By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United employees will take part in the training program.

United Airlines and Special Olympics International are teaming up in an effort to help end discrimination against individuals with intellectual disabilities. The Chicago-based airline made the announcement Thursday morning at its annual Global Leadership Conference. 

"It represents humanity," United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said of the partnership in an interview with Business Insider. "This isn't about commercial valuation. This isn't about anything like that. This is something that's always been near and dear to many of our employees."

A major part of the Special Olympics partnership is the airline's plan to train its 90,000 employees on how to make flying for individuals with intellectual disabilities a more pleasant experience.

"We're going to train all of our frontline employees on how to take care of folks with intellectual disabilities," Munoz added.

The United Airlines CEO pointed out that interactions with individuals who possess intellectual disabilities can be tricky because the signs are not always physically evident. To make the training more effective, the course will be focused heavily on customer interaction scenarios.

A significant portion of the training curriculum is being developed in conjunction with the folks at the Special Olympics.

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9 best airlines in America

9. Hawaiian Airlines

Previous rank: 8

Why it's here: Hawaiian finished last on the TPG list. The Honolulu-based airline's premium ticket prices and Hawaii-centric route network fell victim to TPG new metrics which increased focus on airfare and network size.

8. JetBlue

Previous rank: 4

Why it's here: JetBlue suffered the most significant drop in this year's rankings. The New York-based airline struggled with on-time arrivals, baggage and change fees as well as customer satisfaction. JetBlue's position as a boutique carrier hurts it rankings with respect to the size of its route network as well as the lavishness of its frequent flyer program.

7. Spirit Airlines

Previous rank: 10

Why it's here: Spirit jumped three spots in the rankings due to its improvement in areas such as the number of lost baggage while also benefiting from the missteps of its rivals and the merger of Alaska and Virgin America.


6. American

Previous rank: 5

Why it's here: American Airlines didn't make many moves apart from a one spot from after the Virgin/Alaska merger. The airline struggled with on-time arrivals, fees, lost baggage, and customer satisfaction.


5. Frontier Airlines

Previous rank: 9

Why it's here: Frontier Airlines made a surprising jump up the rankings. The ultra-low-cost carrier benefitted from its route expansion and its improvement in baggage handling.

4. United Airlines

Previous rank: 2

Why it's here: United Airlines rocky 2017 caused it to fall two spots, but not for the reasons you'd expect. United saw marked improvement in operational effectiveness with the number customer complaints down 17% while also decreasing the number of people involuntarily bumped from flights. However, the airline couldn't keep up with its rivals in areas such as airfare and the quality of its airport lounges.

3. Delta Air Lines

Previous rank: 7

Why it's here: Delta made big strides in airfare, the involuntary bumps, and its frequent flyer program while maintaining its high rankings in on-time performance, lost baggage, and the size of its route network.

2. Southwest Airlines

Previous rank: 6

Why it's here: Southwest improved four spots over the past year thanks to lower airfare and the expansion of its sizable route network. The airline's stellar customer satisfaction score and its free checked baggage policy also helped.

1. Alaska Airlines

Previous rank: 1

Why it's here: Alaska Airlines maintained its top spot by scoring in the top three in several key criteria including airfare, on-time arrivals, customer satisfaction, baggage handling, and its frequent flyer program.


By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 of United's frontline employees will have completed the training course.

"We're looking at this as a new kind of relationship that's more than just a corporation helps a charity," Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver told us. "It's much more of two-way partnership where we hope the gift of our athletes will help make United a better company and the strength of United will make the Special Olympics a more powerful movement."

Both leaders agree that the ultimate goal is to create a culture of inclusion through greater interaction and better understanding.

In fact, Munoz is willing to take it one step further.

"As we're talking about their involvement in our training, we're also talking the bout potential hiring of individuals with intellectual disabilities," the United Airlines CEO said.

Munoz used Bree Bogucki, an ambassador for the Special Olympics, as an example. "You only have to meet her for half an hour like I have and immediately fall in love with the kind of spirit and energy she possesses," he said. "She's the  perfect person to train our people."

The Special Olympics was founded in 1968 and uses sports, health, education, as well as leadership programs to help combat discrimination against and empower individuals with intellectual disabilities. 

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