United Airlines upcycles the friendly skies with eco-friendly travel bags

Environmental Operations

Chicago - More than 20 large banners that encouraged United Airlines customers to "Fly the Friendly Skies" at Chicago O'Hare are finding new life. The company worked with the Columbia College Chicago Department of Fashion Studies and the Re:new Project – a nonprofit that provides employment opportunities for refugee women – to transform the large fabric signs into 100 eco-friendly carry-on bags.

Starting tomorrow, customers can purchase these upcycled backpacks and duffel bags by visiting the United Shop at The proceeds will benefit Re:new and the Alto Mayo Forest Carbon Project in Northern Peru.

"United is committed to operating sustainably and responsibly, and that means finding creative ways to further reduce our impact on the environment," said the airline's Managing Director of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability Angela Foster-Rice. "As part of our Eco-Skies commitment, we are excited to give these banners a second life, and know our customers will enjoy taking home a piece of the friendly skies."

The Challenge

United challenged the students at Columbia College to create a carry-on bag from the banner material that could:

  1. Fit under an airplane seat (9"x10"x17")
  2. Be economical to make, yet attractive
  3. Be durable and wearable

After United selected the winning designs, Re:new stepped in to produce the one-of-a-kind, hand-sewn bags featuring distinct skyline images from the airline's hub cities. For more on the design process and to hear from the students behind these unique travel bags, watch this video.