And the award for most irresponsible airline goes to …

By | August 7th, 2009

United Airlines, according to Green America a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to creating a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.

The Chicago-based airline came in eighth place, earning a “C-” for its human rights record, “Ds” for its labor and ethics and governance practices and an “F” for its environmental policies.

Southwest Airlines took the top spot, although its grades are nothing to write home about, either: straight “Cs” with the exception of a “B+” for its environmental practices.

So what did the airlines do to deserve this?

United’s page is quite the corporate rap sheet, detailing infractions against the environment, the rights of workers and ethical lapses.

In August 2008, the union representing pilots at United Airlines called on CEO Glenn F. Tilton to resign due to what the pilots saw as poor governance. Union officials accused Tilton of being responsible for a decline in customer service, employee morale and financial performance, and pointed out that the U.S. Department of Transportation ranked United as the second-worst on-time airline for the previous month.

But Southwest shouldn’t be doing a victory dance over its scores, either.

In March 2007, Southwest Airlines reported to the Federal Aviation Administration that it had failed to complete several fuselage inspections. Instead of grounding the planes until inspection could be completed, Southwest Airlines continued to fly the planes. In addition, evidence has came forward that indicates that Southwest was working with FAA agents to keep their error unknown.

Those of us who follow the airline industry know all of this, of course. But what strikes me about this report is how little difference there is from first to worst.

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It’s almost as if Green America is saying what air travelers have suspected all along: If you’re an airline, it’s almost impossible to be ethical, fair or green.