How Your Frequent Flyer Miles Make a Difference in Emergencies

How Your Frequent Flyer Miles Make a Difference in Emergencies

The word ‘unprecedented’ is an apt descriptor for 2020. We’ve witnessed record-breaking locust swarms in the North and East Africa, powerful Typhoon Kaishen in South Korea, the global COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Delta – the first-ever Greek letter storm to ever make landfall in the continental US and the fourth named storm to hit Louisiana this year. This is just a snapshot.  

With more frequent disasters comes immense strain on response systems around the world, including the sources of funding that nonprofit organizations depend on to help communities in crisis.

In the world of humanitarian relief, we find ourselves repeating the mantra “cash is king” in the wake of every disaster. Unrestricted donations of funds are often the best way to support nonprofits helping disaster-affected communities. This allows us to direct resources to the interventions and places they are needed most. 

But there is another way to give that will help Airlink and our partners make an impact: donating frequent flyer miles. 

Here’s a look at some of the programs that donations from United MileagePlus members have made possible this year.

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1. Medical Assistance for Syrian Refugees in Greece

In early September 2020, a fire broke out in Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece, once considered Europe’s largest camp for Syrian refugees. 

In the wake of the fire, at least 13,000 refugees were left without shelter or access to normal health services; the camp had burned to the ground. Humanitarian organizations and agencies had built up the healthcare infrastructure to include several specialty services such as urgent care, triage, and isolation units, and all of that was gone.

In the aftermath of the fire, thanks to United MileagePlus member donations of frequent flyer miles, Airlink deployed five medical volunteers with NGO partner Hands On Global to Greece to support healthcare infrastructure rebuilding efforts in coordination with local agencies. The Hands On Global team also provided critical medical surge capacity to the camp’s overwhelmed healthcare providers, ultimately staying on Lesvos to help for more than 2 months.

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2. Rapid Response to the Beirut Industrial Explosion

The August 4 industrial explosion in Beirut killed 203 people and injured more than 6,500. The explosion also caused an estimated €13 billion in damage, including destruction of homes, businesses, and healthcare facilities, and left more than 300,000 people in Beirut homeless. Of course, the emergency also exacerbated the existing issues created by COVID-19 and the country’s economic crisis.

Airlink partner Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) was on the ground after the emergency, thanks to a long-standing country office, but needed to send in additional personnel to help with the recovery. 

Thanks to United miles donations, Airlink deployed 4 staff members to lead ADRA’s emergency response teams, who have been on the ground providing emergency food, water, and cash vouchers for shelter repairs, as well as supporting first responders and assessing healthcare facilities to meet their needs.

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3. Shelter for People Affected by the US Gulf Hurricanes

The US Gulf Coast was hit by not one or two, but five hurricanes making landfall. When Hurricane Laura hit Lake Charles, Louisiana, followed in short order by Hurricane Sally in Alabama and Florida, Airlink was there to help its nonprofit partners respond.

Through donations from United MileagePlus members, Airlink was able to send crucial first waves of volunteers – 13 Greyshirts from Team Rubicon USA to Lake Charles, and 3 Greyshirts from Team Rubicon Canada to Pensacola, FL – to stand up immediate responses to both disasters. 

Airlink continued to support waves of volunteers who came into the region to help with road clearance, roof tarping, expedient home repair, muck-outs, and coordination of spontaneous volunteers for months after each storm. In the four months since the storms, these programs have helped nearly 2,000 people return to their homes.

4. Helping Puerto Rico in the Aftermath of an Earthquake

On January 7, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck southwestern Puerto Rico, with 29 severe aftershocks continuing through the following days. This earthquake was the worst seismic event on the island in more than 100 years, and it left at least 1.1 million people without basic services like water or power. 

Airlink was able to quickly deploy 2 responders of NECHAMA’s Disaster Response Team (DRT), who assisted in the installation and integration of portable emergency solar energy to six locations hit hard by the earthquakes. These six sites supported over 300 individuals who were otherwise without access to electricity, powering refrigeration for medications, critical medical equipment, and recharging families’ cell phones and computers.

In addition, miles donations helped Airlink deploy responders from IsraAID, who led distributions of water filtration systems, solar lights, first aid kits, and other basic relief items. The team also provided psychological first aid and other forms of psychosocial support to affected communities, most notably children and women, who were at high risk of psychological impact.

It is truly amazing what a donation of miles can make possible, and you can help Airlink and its partners implement high-impact programs like these by donating your miles now. Through December 31, United is matching all donations up to a total of 150,000 miles; please be sure to help us unlock this match. You never know what it could do for communities in crisis.

Picture of Stephanie Steege

Stephanie Steege

Stephanie Steege is Director of Humanitarian Programs at Airlink, leading operations connecting nonprofit partners and the aviation sector to deliver disaster responders and supplies in the wake of humanitarian crises worldwide.

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