Cover United Airlines made 7,500 face masks for airline employees from old uniforms (photo: Courtesy United Airlines)

United Airlines, which pre-Covid operated the most direct routes between Asia and the US of any American airline, partners with Looptworks to create upcycled face masks from 28,000 old uniforms.

As the aviation industry—largely grounded since the coronavirus crisis tamped down travel demand worldwide beginning earlier this year—looks towards the future, airlines are finding ways to address practical, everyday concerns. One new issue that requires immediate solutions: How to ensure that all your employees—both on the ground and in the air—have access to face masks on the job?

United Airlines came up with a solution that's both on-brand and eco-friendly. Last week, United, one of the biggest airlines in the United States and, before the Covid-19 crisis unfolded Stateside in March, operated the most direct flights of any American carrier from the US to Asia, distributed 7,500 washable, reusable face masks to its frontline employees in San Francisco International Airport and its San Francisco Maintenance Base. The coolest thing about these masks? All 7,500 were made—in partnership with Portland-based upcycling company Looptworks—from 12,284 lbs of old United Airlines uniforms. 

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The fabric, culled from uniforms previously worn by the airline's 28,000 Technical Operations, Ramp Service and Catering Operations employees, was previously destined for a second life as carpet padding or insulation fibre. Instead, in light of current needs, these old garments were upcycled into masks. 

"Recycling these unused uniforms into masks is a natural extension of our broader effort to overhaul our cleaning, social distancing and mitigation measures to ensure we're doing everything possible to keep our employees and our customers safe," said Janet Lamkin, United Airlines SVP and President, California, in a statement.

United Airlines was the first American carrier to require its in-flight staff to wear face masks on the job this past April and May.

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