In July 2011, for the first time in a generation, the United Nations declared a famine in East Africa and the global humanitarian community swung into crisis mode. With food, medicine and other aid relief being donated by countries across the world, UNICEF called on the world's airlines to donate or offer cheap air cargo space to help them get it there.

They received an immediate response. FedEx offered a Paris-to-Nairobi flight, while other airlines, including UPS and Virgin donated cargo space to ensure urgently-needed supplies reached the disaster zone.

British Airways carried water tanks, tap stands, pipes and water pumps on a scheduled flight to Nairobi on behalf of Oxfam and later despatched a Boeing 747 freighter loaded with relief aid for both Oxfam and UNICEF. This cargo included 5,000 metres of piping used to supply water at the Dolo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia, along with emergency food and medical supplies. The airline also flew 40 Oxfam relief workers to Kenya free-of-charge. Passengers also helped out and for two weeks in August 2011 all donations collected on British Airways flights were given to the Disasters Emergency Commission.

Lufthansa Cargo donated two flights to carry relief supplies to Nairobi on behalf of the German humanitarian agency Luftfahrt ohne Grenzen (Wings of Help). The cargo, which included medical supplies and nutrient-rich foods was destined for the Dadaab Complex, the largest refugee camp in the world, as well as other drought-affected areas in East Africa where it was distributed by the International Medical Corps.

Many other airlines contributed to the famine relief. And two aid flights, using and A380 test aircraft, were arranged between the Federation of International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Airbus Corporate Foundation to fly 77 tonnes of high-energy food to support hunger relief efforts.