Over the past year, few business sectors have experienced as much disruption as the airline and entertainment industries.
In 2020, with many theaters closed and audiences wary of gathering in groups, the U.S. and Canada box office totals declined 80% year on year to $2.2 billion. Major releases were pushed; some still haven’t come out. At the other end of the pipeline, studios postponed or paused major productions; television and indie film shoots were subject to ongoing delays.
The airline industry was put into a similar deep freeze. During the same period, demand for global air transport fell by nearly 70%, as compared to the year before.
Now, though, both sectors are accelerating toward a post-COVID-19-vaccine future. United Airlines is making it a priority to solve Hollywood’s newest travel-related challenges — and enlisting major partners to do it.
As an industry leader for safe production-related travel, United is a longtime partner of the entertainment industry. What might be less apparent is that United depends not just on entertainment industry travel, but also on entertainment products — it’s a uniquely symbiotic relationship. Almost 50% of content views on United flights are new-release films. During the pandemic, when fewer films were released, customers’ feedback showed they missed that content.
In response to the pandemic, United debuted industry-leading safety and cleaning protocols to keep all forms of urgent travel — including trips for film production — moving safely. Marie Downey, managing director of United for Business West Division, says: “As part of the United CleanPlusSM program, we teamed up with Clorox to enhance our cleaning procedures using their products, and worked closely with experts at Cleveland Clinic to advise us on various safety measures to keep our employees and customers safer at the airport and when they fly.”
United also identified ways to improve its suite of entertainment products to better support production travel. “Some of those highlights,” Downey adds, “include discounts on flights for production and travel agreements, prepaid media bags [such as camera, film, lighting and sound equipment cases], and a 24/7 support desk that is available through the entire production process and for any special industry needs.”
A few months into the pandemic, director-producer Tyler Perry wanted to help get his employees and production partners back to work. Perry proposed restarting production for a range of projects, and wanted to transport crews to Camp Quarantine, a “bubble” studio that he created in Atlanta, Georgia.
For Ed White, vice president of aviation for MB Aviation (and Perry’s personal pilot), this represented a “monumental task.” Perry challenged White’s team to come up with a safe, workable solution. “My personal role,” White says, “was coordinating with the president of the studio and production to get people safely from wherever they were in the country.”
Working together with United, White was able to develop what he calls a “curb-to-curb health solution.” Three days before their flights, all travelers got a COVID-19 test and were required to have a confirmed negative result to board the plane. At the airport, they were tested again, kept socially distanced, then taken to an Airbus A319 in small groups.
For each flight, White says, “we provided our own seat covers, tray covers and headrest covers. And United and their team provided sealed catering for our passengers, and people had assigned seats, with social distancing.”
Once they landed in Georgia, cast and crew were placed into a pre-quarantine hold. Then, they required an additional confirmed negative test result before officially entering Camp Quarantine and beginning production. Testing continued throughout production. Then, when each person completed work and returned to Los Angeles, White managed a similar process for the journey home.
White says United made the biggest impact when it came to pricing. “Private travel can be very, very expensive,” he notes, “so we minimized that to the greatest degree possible. The largest number of [cast and crew members] came from L.A., and we were able to leverage that with our flights with United. We put a competitive bid system out there, and United came in and met all of our requested protocols, and we were very pleased with the pricing that United had for us. It came in under budget.”
United’s long-standing relationship with the film and television industry has given it a unique window into the everyday challenges that accompany an ambitious production. “We understand that during COVID, production logistics have become even more challenging,” says Glenn Hollister, vice president of United for Business, “so we want to make sure that your travel experience with United remains the least of your worries.”
Throughout the pandemic, United kept the world moving, leading the way on health, safety and passenger experience innovations for customers and crew alike. As the world begins to reopen, the airline’s ultimate goal is to support the communities and economies it serves every day by keeping travel safer, convenient and comfortable for all, which includes allowing the entertainment industry to concentrate on what it does best.
“We are honored to play a supporting role in getting Hollywood back to work,” says Luc Bondar, vice president of Marketing and Loyalty and president of MileagePlus at United. “From the small part we play in making big productions happen, to offering our customers the latest blockbuster titles that they missed over the past 12 months, it’s exciting to welcome the entertainment industry back on board.”