More for your miles
Betty Low

Visions of white sandy beaches tend to adorn airlines' frequent flyer pages but those miles can be converted into benefits greater than nurturing your tan.

Sustainability is about responsibility to the community as well as to the environment. Community programmes are usually done in partnership with organisations devoted to this or directly with local organisations, often in destinations to which a carrier flies.

Many airlines fund-raise through programmes which raise money from passengers as well as staff. British Airways is the grand-daddy of raising money from its passengers for good works. Before it created Flying Start, a partnership between the airline and Comic Relief UK, three years ago it had for 15 years had "Change for Good", a programme in partnership with UNESCO UK which encouraged passengers to donate unwanted foreign currency to the charity. The programme raised an impressive £27 million for programmes in 58 countries aimed at helping needy children.

Change for Good has a number of airline partnerships around the world who collect passengers' change on their domestic and international flights including Aer Lingus, Alitalia, ANA, American Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, JAL and Qantas.

Its new UK airline partner is easyJet. easyJet asks passengers across its European network to put their spare foreign currency into envelopes distributed during flights.

easyJet is directing its fundraising towards immunisation programmes and is supporting UNESCO's programme to vaccinate against malaria and polio. It is also providing mosquito nets to prevent malaria. easyJet says it has raised more than £10,000 for UNESCO in this way.

easyJet has also supported UNICEF with an emergency appeal to help the children of Syria. The appeal ran for six weeks earlier this year and raised more than £70,000.  The carrier says its aim is to raise more funds than any other UNICEF Change for Good partner in the world.

Flying Start, the partnership between British Airways and Comic Relief, has raised more than £4 million so far this year and aims to have raised more than £6 million in total in 2013.

Fundraising has included hosting a gig in the sky at 43,000 feet on 10 March in support of Comic Relief for Red Nose Day. Events on board included the 'Highest Harlem Shuffle' and 'Highest Concert in the Sky', with Tony Hadley and Kim Wilde performing.

Money from the Virgin collection goes to support Free the Children, a "children helping children" charity founded in Canada by then 12-year-old Craig Kielburger who had been affected by reports of child labour. The charity has now grown to be a "helping children charity" and does this in 45 countries including the UK.

Virgin Atlantic passengers are able to donate their loose change in envelopes found in their amenity packs. Change for Children raises about £50,000 per month; £643,000 was raised in 2011. Virgin passengers also donated 4 million Flying Club miles in 2011.

Donating miles is not just a British phenomenon as a number of other airlines have schemes to encourage charitable giving among its customers. United Airlines, for example, has a Donate Your Miles programme by which passengers may give miles (minimum 500) to one of 50 charities of their choice. Charities on the list vary from large, well-established charities such as the American Cancer Society and the Salvation Army to local, specialised projects such as Iowa Homeless Youth Center and the Auyda Foundation which helps people in Micronesia gain access to quality healthcare.

Such programmes are popular in the US. American Airlines frequent flyers can donate their miles to Kids In Need which supports a number of children's charities. Delta Air Lines' SkyWish supports a number of charities including the American Red Cross, Make-a-Wish, UNICEF and CARE. US Airways has its Dividend Miles Charity Program which divides the proceeds between Make-a-Wish Foundation and Save the Children.

The world's airlines have found a way of giving both staff and passengers a way of helping others in the community.

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