CSR in the Airline Industry

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Amanda Zacho Pretzmann
  • Nanna Sawapha Laursen
Through the ages, CSR has become an important element of organisations’ agendas. Much CSR literature assume that organisations’ engagement in CSR is inspired by a social pressure from several stakeholders, who hold different concerns regarding social and environmental issues. As a result, organisations have to implement and communicate CSR initiatives, both to address stakeholders’ issues but also to gain competitive and financial advantages. The airline companies are no exception, and due to the polluting industry, they have been pushed in a sustainable direction to reduce the negative impacts of their operations. Therefore, airline com-panies need to meet stakeholder expectations, while at the same time maintain the balance between economic progress, social development and environmental liability. The American airline United Airlines identifies itself as the most environmentally conscious airline in the world and has developed solutions in order to protect the planet for the future generations. Even though an increasing number of organisations understand the importance of addressing social and environmental issues, organisations find it difficult to implement CSR as an integrated part of a corporate strategy.
This master thesis examines United Airlines’ CSR approach and whether American consumers are inclined to exhibit socially responsible behaviour when choosing an airline. The theoretical framework comprises Maignan, Ferrell and Ferrell’s ‘Stakeholder model for implementing so-cial responsibility in marketing’, Schwartz and Carroll’s ‘Three-Domain Model of CSR’, and Ajzen’s ‘Theory of Planned Behavior’. The theories will be applied through our empirical data consisting of a survey to American consumers and United Airlines’ CSR reports and corporate websites. Moreover, our methodological approach is based on the scientific approaches social constructivism and hermeneutics used to interpret statements and opinions provided by our data. The results from our survey find that the majority believe that airlines have a greater responsibility toward society than other companies, and specifically responsibilities toward the environment, society, employees, security and diversity are expected. United Airlines’ ap-proach indicates that the airline address both issues related to environment, society, diversity and security. Though, in relation to employees, several incidents concerning bad customer ex-periences show that United Airlines’ management seemingly do not contribute to a healthy work culture and requires improvement. Further, United Airlines’ downgrading of its employ-ees’ well-being seems contradictory to their values, which may result in a perceived superficial
approach to CSR. In relation to the consumers tendency to exhibit socially responsible behav-iour when choosing an airline, consumers’ attitudes are considered positive, as the majority hold favourable associations regarding choosing a socially responsible airline. However, the subjective norm is considered unfavourable since only a small proportion of the consumers feel a social pressure to choose a socially responsible airline. This is primarily due to the consumers noticeable focus on price as a determinant for choosing an airline. The perceived behavioural control is also considered unfavourable, in which price still constitutes a major obstacle for consumers. According to the consumers, an expected higher price, combined with few options and more research to do, make the process of choosing a socially responsible airline difficult. Thus, based on the outcome of the three variables it is concluded that consumers are less in-clined to actually exhibit socially responsible behaviour when choosing an airline.
As result of the analysis, we have identified a contradiction in the answers of our survey. Con-sumers express social and environmental concerns regarding the airline industry, leading air-lines to experience a social pressure to address these issues; however, the consumers do not expect, neither want to, pay more for an eco-friendly airline. Instead, consumers expect CSR as a condition for doing business. Though, due to increasing social and environmental concerns and expectations, it can be argued that United Airlines should do more to meet these concerns and expectations. Use of biofuels would therefore be an advantage but will require a financial investment for the airline. Moreover, United Airlines should prioritise good working conditions for their employees to establish trust in the airline’s engagement in ethical work. Finally, it is concluded that the ideal solution for United Airlines would be to offer socially responsible solutions and services, but at the same price as non-responsible competitors; consumers expect social and environmental responsibility in the airline industry, but they are not willing to pay more for it.
Publication date1 Jun 2020
Number of pages83
ID: 333379056