An Airline, A Hospital and A Disinfectant Brand Walk Into A(n Airport) Bar–the New Health/Care Collaboration in the Age of COVID

You’ve heard the one about three characters walking into a bar. A new collaboration between United Airlines, Cleveland Clinic and Clorox reminded me of that scenario, and that in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, collaboration can bolster our health.

In the era of COVID-19, people — consumers. patients managing chronic conditions, and caregivers (whether for younger or older loved ones) — are concerned about contracting the virus. In U.S. states where governors mandated shelter-at-home for much of the first half of 2020, millions of people have become conditioned to physically distance, wear face coverings, and #StayHome.

In particular, workers who travel in the course of their jobs completely halted booking airline travel in February and the vast majority haven’t yet tried flying the friendly skies. Instead, workers who could do so have been tele-working from home, increasingly creating home office spaces, clicking into virtual meetings, developing Zoom fatigue, and snacking between meetings.

To attract flyers, whether frequent or tourist, to book flights, airlines like hospitals, restaurants, gyms and other public spaces have to make their case to the risk-managing traveler that it’s safe to board and fly on an airplane.

Enter a new collaboration for healthy travel featuring one of the world’s largest airlines, United; the most recognized global hospital brand, Cleveland Clinic; and, one of the world’s most iconic consumer brands, Clorox. This trio is working together on United CleanPlus.

Together, these three well-recognized organizations have come together to bolster consumer confidence in getting back to flying for work, fun, or family reasons. The over-arching goal of the initiative is for United Airlines to deliver, “an industry-leading standard of cleanliness.”

The CleanPlus protocol at the airport is for United travelers to experience touchless kiosks for baggage check-in, sneeze guards, mandatory face coverings for crew and customers, and providing flexibility to consumers who may be concerned about a flight that is too-full for their own sense of safety. The plan is to limit advance seat selections and allow consumers to change to another flight if the one they booked is over 70% capacity.

Clorox products will be used in the cleaning and hygiene process for the planes, and Cleveland Clinic is advising on technology, training, and quality assurance. The program is being first rolled out at United Airlines’ hubs in Chicago and Denver.

“As the public begins to adjust to a world that’s been altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, health and safety is of the utmost importance,” Tomislav Mihaljevic, M.D., Cleveland Clinic CEO and President, is quoted in the press release on the program. “We are proud to be part of this program and to share the knowledge we’ve gained as we’ve worked to contain and understand COVID-19….It’s important for everyone to take precautions as we enter this new phase of COVID-19 response, and Cleveland Clinic is pleased to play a role in helping people travel safely.”

Clorox will be the hygiene brand involved in the enhanced cabin sanitation as part of electrostatic spraying, implemented in flights this month.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Cleveland Clinic’s tagline is, “Every life deserves world-class care.” The health system has a market reach around the world and is a global healthcare organization in several ways: the hospital treats thousands of patients from outside of the U.S. annually; the organization operates health care provider organizations around the world; and, Cleveland Clinic also advises other health care providers on issues of quality and patient safety, patient experience, digital health, supply chain, innovation and other areas of expertise for which the Clinic is world-recognized. The United CleanPlus program leverages Cleveland Clinic’s expertise in these and other competencies.

For Clorox, the program extends the brand further in hospitality, travel, and health care in the expanding market for hygiene that the COVID-era has inspired. In the B2C market landscape, hygiene products for the home and personal care have been top-sellers. In the COVID-consumer’s pandemic pantry-building and Stay-at-Home journey, Clorox has enjoyed a stock share renaissance with the likes of Campbell’s Soup and Netflix, for home hygiene, shelf-stable food stock-up and video streaming.

For United Airlines, partnering with Cleveland Clinic and Clorox benefits from a halo effect of two trusted consumer brands in health care and hygiene as consumers worry about “re-entering” the economy in retail and travel. The airline industry has suffered mightily in the Great Lockdown, and to attract travelers back to airports and planes, must ensure that people feel comfortable, safe, protected and valued in the process — from planning a trip to the time spent in the airport, on the plane, and departing at the destination. That’s a lot of dots to connect in the consumer experience journey — something the Cleveland Clinic knows a lot about in the organization’s many years pioneering patient experience innovations.

In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it takes a village, a collaboration, to bolster trust in leaving the house (and returning to health care settings) after weeks or months of Staying Home. Watch for lessons to be learned from this innovative United CleanPlus program: we’ll see more partnerships like this one, crossing industry siloes to help consumers make health and manage risks in a world growing smaller and more interconnected.

To learn more about the program, check out this video from the airline featuring the company’s relatively new CEO, Scott Kirby, who is confronting the COVID-19 pandemic early on in his job.

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