United Airlines may have lost a few frequent flyers in recent years as its leg room keeps shrinking to a size zero and the world learned that it would eject a paying passenger off the plane at its whim. But as long as its biggest customer sticks around, it will be fine. And that top client was just revealed to be Apple.
According to the information on a United banner, a photo of which has been circulating on Twitter over the weekend, Apple spends $150 million on United flights every year, not nearly matched by its runner-ups, Facebook and Google, which spend just over $34 million yearly.
Apple’s biggest regular purchase is business class tickets from San Francisco to Shanghai, of which it books 50 every single day. (That averages out to about $1,900 for each 24-hour round trip. Not a bad deal on corporate rates!)
Apple’s other frequent destinations include Hong Kong, Taiwan (home to its iPhone assembler, Foxconn), Seoul, Beijing and London.
In a statement to Observer, United said this information was provided to United employees as part of a pilot project in San Francisco to highlight the importance of these corporate accounts and was not intended to be shared publicly. The project has been discontinued since the numbers leaked, the airline said.
Apparently some of the companies named on the banner were unhappy about the public learning of their relationship with the airline.
“A small group of customers were mentioned by name on this material and each has been contacted directly and we are working to address their concerns,” United said in a statement. “The material has been taken down and moving forward, we will review and further restrict sharing of internal customer information to a strictly need-to-know audience.”
The intense frequency at which Apple has been sending executives to China serves as the latest testament to the country’s importance as a business partner, in addition to its role as a primary iPhone market. Apple currently has 42 retail stores and four research centers in China—two located near Shanghai. It also has the entire assembly line for iPhones and mobile tablets set up in the country, despite these devices’ famous “designed by Apple in California” label.
So, don’t be surprised to run into the engineer or designer of your iPhone next time you fly United, although it’s unlikely you’ll see CEO Tim Cook on board any time soon, as he has been forced to use a private jet for both business and personal trips since last year.
Apple hasn’t responded to Observer’s request for comment for this story.