US airlines assist in disaster relief efforts

The damage wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and earthquakes in Mexico have motivated many to take action, including the Big Three U.S. airlines which have added flights and taken other steps to aid those in need.

Atlanta-headquartered Delta Air Lines' (NYSE:DAL) third humanitarian flight departed for San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) at 6 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, carrying 50 state troopers, 100 officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), laborers to help with debris removal, electricians to help restore power on the island and other relief workers.

Flight being off-loaded as SJU
The cargo bin was loaded with more than 20,000 pounds relief supplies, including 100 generators to provide power for the island, whose power grid was decimated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Once the flight landed at SJU, Delta team went to work offloading supplies and helping out their colleagues on the ground, according to the airline.

Dallas-headquartered American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) is also facilitating hands-on assistance.

In a news release issued Sept. 23, AA detailed some of its relief missions and measures, including a program called Operation Puerto Rico Strong that waives size and weight requirements for airline employees who want to send supplies, and even generators, to family and friends in Puerto Rico.

In addition, airlines are making monetary contributions to the relief efforts.

Delta, its cargo division and the company’s employees, “Have mobilized like never before, partnering with the American Red Cross and other experienced non-profits, contributing $3.75 million” in addition to its relief flights, according to an article on the News Hub page of Delta's website.

That article detailed where the money will go. While $1m from the Delta Air Lines Foundation went to the Red Cross’s annual disaster giving program in line with the company's annual charitable giving, the rest will be divided among a half-dozen agencies focusing on the disasters across North America.

Table detailing Delta's contributions
Chicago-headquartered United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) has also made a financial commitment to the disaster relief efforts. United will provide bonus miles to MileagePlus members who donate to designated relief organizations, and will also match the first $100,000 raised.

American is also making financial contributions, but has chosen to take a low-key approach. In response to TheTravelPro's inquiry about charitable contributions or matching donations, the airline said, "American Airlines has partnered with American Red Cross for many years and is part of a select group of leading corporations that provide the highest level of support to the Red Cross preparedness and relief efforts."

My take

While I applaud what the airlines are already doing, I would like to seem them offering their passengers a meaningful way to join the effort. How about waiving baggage fees in exchange for a donation to one of a few designated charities? Waiving one $25 bag fee for every $10 or $15 donated would also provide a modest financial incentive to donate.

I expect there would be some – perhaps many – travelers who would say, “Hey, I’ll donate the whole $25 per bag; it’s no more money out of my pocket, and I’ll be doing some good.” My bet is that such an approach would net the charities involved a significant amount more than the $3.85m pledged to date.

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Photo provided by Delta Air Lines
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