Sadiq Khan agreed to promote United Airlines on an official visit to America in exchange for business-class seats on flights throughout the trip, in a deal previously denied by City Hall.
The agreement, seen by The Telegraph, was signed in April last year by the mayor’s office and the airline and said he would provide “recognition” to United Airlines at events as part of a trade mission to the US last year.
It comes after Mr Khan’s chief of staff, David Bellamy, told members of the London Assembly he would “not describe it as a United Airlines sponsored trip” in June this year.
Mr Bellamy said that it was “a natural part of these trips that businesses doing business with London get some publicity out of it”, adding: “I am not aware of anything specifically we did for [United] in exchange.”
However, the agreement said United could “optimise all appropriate PR opportunities” on the trip, put their logo on signs at its events and send a representative to accompany the mayor and his staff on board their flights.
Mr Khan then appeared to promote United’s expansion of its services to and from Britain that spring.
Posing with United pilots on the tarmac at Heathrow airport before departing London in May 2022 in a post on Twitter, Mr Khan wrote that the airline was “now flying 22 times a day from Heathrow to the US”
A press release, issued by City Hall on the same day, repeated the statement, adding: “United Airlines is proud to be flying the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and his team on their trade mission to the United States.”
Mr Khan opposes the expansion of Heathrow to add a third runway, citing air and noise pollution concerns, and has previously spoken about reducing the number of flights to cut the airport’s carbon footprint.
He told reporters on a visit to nearby Hounslow in June that “we don’t want more flights,” adding: “We may have fewer flights with bigger aeroplanes but also the fuel they use might be more climate friendly.”
The six flights, worth £255 per seat, flew Mr Khan, his staff and a select group of journalists to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and back to London.
City Hall was left with only fees and taxes to pay and United’s agreement also included economy class seats on flights from San Francisco to Los Angeles and two “pre-visit” journeys from London to Los Angeles and San Francisco for a deputy mayor.