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Eating through Asia, Excursionist Perk style

By The Hub team

The best part about travel, according to Marc Marrone?

"Being able to taste and try the different cuisines," Marrone says, "because even if you don't speak the language of whatever country or culture you happen to be in, you can express a lot via food."
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Spoken like a true, world class chef. Marrone, the Corporate Executive Chef for TAO Group Las Vegas, Hollywood and Singapore, recently got to immerse himself in Southeast Asian culture – and cuisine – on a week-long foodie dream come true of a trip, thanks to United's new San Francisco-Singapore route.

Marrone experienced just how spectacularly grand and modern Singapore is – the towering Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the luminescent stalks of Supertree Grove and the curved roof of the Esplanade Concert Hall all amazed him. And few cities interweave modernity and greenery quite like Singapore, a fact he had great appreciation for. Look no further than the Gardens by the Bay, a 250-acre nature park featuring intricately designed, flora-infused structures.

But beneath all of those stop-and-stare attractions lied what resonated most with Marrone: the food. From hawker stalls and wet (food) markets to Michelin-starred fine dining establishments, Singapore boasts meal options that cater to every mood.

Sharing in those food experiences with others who hadn't yet been to Singapore was his favorite part.

"You know, to see someone's face when they get to try something for the first time --that you've already had -- is an incredible experience, to be able to share that with somebody," Marrone says. "But then on top of that, experiencing some things on my own for the first time with everybody was really a crazy and amazing experience. We got to eat some amazing food and got to try some amazing things, and see some really cool parts of the city."

Additionally, Singapore is a great launching pad to the rest of Southeast Asia — as Marrone experienced, thanks to United's Excursionist Perk. Who wouldn't want two trips for the price of one?

The Excursionist Perk is meant to give a free one-way segment to travelers on round-trip award itineraries between two different regions, as defined by the United award chart. By invoking the Excursionist Perk, travelers can get a segment for no additional miles within the region they're visiting as long as it's a different region than where they're starting. All they have to pay are the taxed and fees associated with the new segment. For example, Newark-London-Vienna-Newark would cost the same amount of miles as Newark-London-Newark.

Marrone cooking on the streets of Vietnam

Marrone getting around via moped in Vietnam


Marrone used the Excursionist Perk to add a day in Vietnam to his itinerary on his Singapore trip.

"I got to cook on the side of the street and eat some of the best food right off the grill on the sidewalk," Marrone said. "Little did I know how much of an impact the 26 hours we spent there would have on me."

To Marrone, Vietnam stands out more than any other destination he's been to.

"From the minute we got off the plane to then we got back on the plane, it was a full immersive cultural experience between all the different foods, we got to experience how we travel around Vietnam, and really got to spend a true day in the life of what it's like to be in Vietnam."

5 tips & tricks we learned

  • Eat at a hawker center more than once They're everywhere and Singapore is home to the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world (Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle).
  • The airport is a destination in and of itself The world's best airport for many years complete with a butterfly garden and rooftop pool. English is an official language of the country so no language barriers and it's a hub for Asian destinations so you're only a few hours from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and many more.
  • Download Grab Singapore doesn't have Uber or Lyft so the Grab app is a must-have for getting around town.
  • There's more than one infinity pool in town While the iconic Marina Bay Sands has its very popular roof top infinity pool, you can also find one at the JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South.
  • You can still hit the beach in Singapore Singapore is home to Sentosa, a man-made island that features a beach that is over a mile long. You can also hit one of the two golf courses, 14 hotels and even Resorts World Sentosa, featuring the theme park Universal Studios Singapore and a casino.
Marrone cooking on the streets of Vietnam
Marrone getting around via moped in Vietnam
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The gift of a lifetime

By Matt Adams , November 14, 2018

The last thing Newark-based Flight Attendant Jair Ripoll wanted to do was ask for help on social media. It just didn't seem right to him, airing his personal pain like that for everyone to see. But on a layover last fall, his friends and colleagues, Newark-based Flight Attendants Frank Luff and Colleen McClelland, urged him — pleaded, actually — to post news of his condition to Facebook in the hope of a miracle.

Ten years ago, Jair was diagnosed with a hereditary kidney disease. He was told at that time he would need a transplant as the disease progressed, but he had been unable to find a friend or family member who could donate one of their kidneys. Jair registered on the organ waiting list in Florida, where his family lives, praying that his name would be called before it was too late. With each passing year, the situation became more desperate.

At work, Jair kept the severity of his condition to himself. Flying was his safe place. The time he spent in the sky provided him a welcomed break from the fears surrounding his health. Frank and Colleen were shocked when he confided in them how sick he was.

"Colleen said, 'You never know how many angels are out there,'" Jair said, recalling how she encouraged him to tell his story on Facebook where his friends and fellow employees could read it and, hopefully, a potential donor would emerge. Jair was reticent, but Colleen and Frank convinced him by taking his phone and writing the post for him. Less than a minute after they published it, a message alert flashed across Jair's phone's screen. Someone had already replied.

"Steven was the first person to respond," Jair said. "I saw it and showed it to Colleen and Frank, and we all started crying."

Jair had flown with fellow Flight Attendant Steven Lepine many times and considered him a friend, but he never expected that Steven would be the first person to offer him the chance at a healthy life.

"I knew Jair had been sick, but I didn't know the extent of it," Steven said. "I felt like he was putting so much on the line with that Facebook post, and I just wanted to help him."

When Jair returned home to New Jersey, the two met for lunch and talked about what the transplant process entailed, including the battery of tests that Steven would need to undergo to make sure his kidney would be a good match for Jair.

"My family — my mother, especially — was worried," Steven said. "She knew the risks, but she also knew that once I decide something, I don't go back."

Things were going well until last October, when Jair's health took a sudden turn during a trip to Barcelona. When he got home, he barely had the strength to move. His friend, Flight Attendant Stephanie Torres, rushed him to the hospital in North Bergen, New Jersey, where doctors discovered that Jair had deadly levels of toxins in his body. They immediately put him on dialysis while Steven continued his tests. Finally, at the beginning of November, they got the call from the doctors at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, where the transplant was to take place: Steven was fully cleared. The procedure was scheduled for December 6.

At 6 a.m. on the day of the surgery, Jair and Steven met in the pre-operation room. Joining them were Steven's mother, his close friend and fellow Flight Attendant Jon Little, and Jair's mother and brother, setting up the first meeting of the families. Though there was a language barrier — Jair's mother only speaks Spanish, Steven's only English — the emotions that filled the space needed no translation. "Steven's mom said to me, 'Now you become my son as well,'" Jair said.

A few hours later, they emerged from the operating room. The transplant had been a success, though the recovery process would be long. Steven returned to work in January and Jair should be cleared to fly again this month. The two talk almost daily, checking in on one another and offering encouragement.

"Jair is my blood brother now," said Steven. "We'll always have this connection."

Jon Little, who stayed by Steven's bedside during the operation, has remained in awe of his friend. "He's a very giving soul," Jon said of Steven. "He's an amazing person, but this took him to a whole new level. He's so modest, he says it's not a big deal, but this is probably one of the most incredible things I've ever seen."

Steven does indeed downplay what he did, and in talking with him you get a sense of the selfless determination that compelled him toward such an incredible act.

"I look at it as helping out another person," he said. "I'm not looking for recognition or anything like that. I never dreamed that I would do something like this, but the moment presented itself and the need was there, and I felt like I had to step up to the plate."

But for Jair, it was more than that. Much more. Because of Steven's gift, his life is forever changed and he struggles with how to adequately express his gratitude. "I don't even have the words, or know how to thank him for something like this," Jair said.

"The reason we want this story told is because we want it to be an example to other people at the airline," he continued. "The people you work with really do become your family. If someone has a problem, I hope our story will help them find the courage to come forward and ask for help. It's like Colleen told me: You never know who your angels are."

Join us in our wildfire relief efforts in California

By The Hub team , November 13, 2018

Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to California and to lifting up communities in need by announcing $150,000 in direct donations to the Ventura County Community Foundation and the North Valley Community Foundation for their efforts in areas affected by the ongoing California wildfires. We also launched a Crowdrise campaign to award up to five million bonus miles for individuals who make donations of $50 or more. All funds will go toward efforts to support affected communities in California. We also continue to work with the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and both community foundations with offers to fly first responders who need to get in or around California.

"United is deeply connected to the affected communities and with a profound sense of both sadness and duty during this difficult time, we are proud to offer our assistance," said Janet Lamkin, United's president for California. "We will continue to engage our generous customers, employees and MileagePlus members and work with local leadership to support all those affected by these devastating fires."

Donations to the Crowdrise campaign supports three relief partners:

  • American Red Cross
  • Ventura County Community Foundation
  • North Valley Community Foundation

Today's announcement builds on our continued commitment to California and recent campaigns to aid in response to wildfires and other disasters. Over the last 12 months, we have raised and donated more than $900,000 to help communities affected by the wildfires.

We are also offering a travel waiver for customers ticketed on flights to, from or through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Customers may reschedule their itineraries for travel through November 25 with a one-time date or time change, and we will waive the change fees and any difference in fare for flights booked in the same cabin and same arrival/destination airports.

An unforgettable first: Rhett receives his flight certificate

By Matt Adams

Like most parents traveling with a baby for the first time, Kristin and Tyler Hildebrand felt a mix of excitement and nerves as they boarded the aircraft with their infant son, Rhett, during a recent family vacation to Cancun, Mexico. As they settled into their seats and made Rhett comfortable for his big adventure, Chicago-based Flight Attendant Paolo Vento stopped by to say hello.

In talking with Vento, the Hildebrands mentioned it was their first time flying together as a family. Hearing that, Paolo's eyes widened. To him, a first flight is as memorable an experience as a child's first step or first word (not to mention a badge of honor for anxious moms and dads) and deserves the same sort of celebration.

"I asked Kristin if she kept a scrapbook and she said yes, so I asked her if she'd like a first flight certificate for Rhett," he said. "She was so excited."

It's a practice that Vento began a few years ago after a family asked him to take their picture to commemorate their daughter's first trip. He asked the parents if they would like a certificate, and it grew from there. Since then, Vento estimates he's given out 40 or 50 of them, making each one at home and mailing them out on his own time and his own dime. The certificates are inscribed with the child's name, the flight's date, the origin and destination, and a short message that reads, in part, "Thank you for entrusting us with this milestone journey through the 'Friendly Skies.'"

"You only have one first flight, and it's nice to have these kinds of things to remember it with," said Vento. "What if that boy or girl grows up to become a pilot? Now they'll have a certificate to show the first time they were on an airplane. It goes back to doing these little acts that show we care."

Mrs. Hildreband took a photograph of Rhett with his certificate and posted it to Instagram, which drew oohs and aahs from other moms. She even sent Vento a nice note and shared it with his supervisor.

"Thank you so much for your kindness and thoughtfulness to take the time to do this. We will treasure this forever," she wrote. "Getting your package made my day. The world needs more people like you."

Things like this come naturally to Vento, who has brought plenty of smiles to the faces of customers over his 24 years at United thanks to his exceptional brand of service.

"If you feel like doing something nice for the customers, just do it, especially if it's authentic," he said. "It's something they'll never forget, and that's what they'll think about when they think of United."

Lifting up immigrant families in California

By The Hub team , November 13, 2018

From mental-health evaluations to language and legal assistance, we are committed to addressing the most pressing needs of the thousands of immigrants that call California home. Earlier this year, we announced a $1 million grant to the San Francisco Legal & Education Network (SFILEN), a nonprofit that advocates for full access to social services and direct legal services to immigrant families regardless of their immigration status.

"United cares deeply about investing in communities we serve," said Janet Lamkin, president, California, for United. "We have been a part of the San Francisco community for 90 years, and we are proud to help SFILEN in its important work with the immigrant community."

Through a four-year partnership, the grant will allow the organization to provide 50 mental-health evaluations each year and 240 hours of language interpretation through SFILEN's hotline, legal consultations and clinics. Additionally, this grant will help SFILEN to hire two full-time staff members to a team that provides critical services to thousands of immigrants every year.

"SFILEN is very grateful for the partnership with United Airlines, and we are very excited about what we can accomplish together," said Marisela Esparza, director of immigrant rights for SFILEN.

This grant is one of eight that we have awarded in the key cities we serve, representing our commitment to invest in and lift up the communities where many of our customers and employees live and work. Each grant is a part of a total of $8 million to help address critical needs in Chicago; Houston; Washington, D.C.; Denver; New York/New Jersey; Los Angeles; and the San Francisco area.

Techs team up to improve Houston Food Bank warehouse

By The Hub team

A delegation of technicians from our Airframe Overhaul and Repair team were among the 100 or so employees who took part in the United Day activities in mid-September at the Houston Food Bank. And, being technicians, they came away from the experience with more than the satisfaction of having volunteered; they decided to apply their skills to improving the food bank's warehouse and associated systems.

"Our job that day was to move pallets," said Kim McLerran, airframe operations manager at Houston Intercontinental. "In doing so, it became pretty clear to us that we could improve the way items are stored and moved, making the processes safer and more efficient, and the Food Bank representatives said they would welcome the assistance."

The team determined that one of the features of the warehouse that was slowing them down was the metal roller racks in the floors. Our team removed the roller racks, which actually increased the time needed to move one pallet as much as fivefold compared to using pallet jacks. Not to mention, the roller racks posed a safety concern for unescorted people, particularly children, if they wandered into the warehouse area.

In addition to removing the roller racks, our Airframe team also painted a safe zone between the packing area and pallet loading area, where a door opens automatically. In that area, if people came through without paying attention, could walk right into the path of a trolley. The team also installed guides on the tracks for the trolleys in the sorting area. Before that, the trolleys were not always lining up correctly, and they could hit posts as they moved down the rail.

"Your contribution has made it easier for our volunteers to be able to move a larger number of boxes," said Leslie Tarango, corporate volunteer recruiter for the Houston Food Bank, "…we have almost doubled our productivity. That turns into more hungry people being fed!"

The Houston Food Bank is the nation's largest and distributes 122 million nutritious meals through its network of 1,500 community partners in southeast Texas, feeding 800,000 individuals each year.

The Houston Food Bank's School Markets program was the recipient of a $1 million grant we announced earlier this summer as part of our Critical Needs Grants program, an $8 million investment we committed to organizations across our hub markets.

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Strength in battle: Courageous veteran shares her story

By Matt Adams , November 12, 2018

The day she took off her fatigues for the last time and packed them away was the day the world stopped making sense for Operations and Military Recruiting Manager Michelle Saunders.

It hadn't taken her long after enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1996 to realize she had found her place in this world. Michelle loved the military, loved the sense of belonging and the sense of contributing to a greater good. It gave her an identity that she craved and she excelled, moving up the ranks to that of a non-commissioned officer in a short time. She was a soldier, through and through. Until, one day, she wasn't. On May 1, 2004, everything changed.

Six months into a deployment to Iraq, Michelle and her unit were patrolling the countryside west of Baghdad when they came under enemy fire, forcing them into a battle that raged through the night, costing them numerous casualties and 11 of the 22 vehicles in their convoy. When dawn broke, the shooting stopped but the unit was forced to take a more dangerous route back to base.

A few miles down the road, explosions once again lit up the sky. Gunfire rang out all around them, and a moment later, the vehicle in which Michelle was riding was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, peppering her with shrapnel. When the smoke cleared, she scrambled for cover, pulling a critically wounded soldier with her and rupturing two discs in her back in the process.

Doctors told her she might never walk again, but over the course of 22 months of physical therapy at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, Michelle proved them wrong. Still, her injuries left her no longer fit for military service.

Suddenly thrust into civilian life, Michelle was overcome with loss, feeling she lacked a purpose and value. She closed herself off from her family and struggled in every way, particularly when it came to finding work. Unable to make ends meet, she soon found herself homeless and couch surfing.

One day, a friend she had made at Walter Reed invited her to a town hall on veterans' issues in Washington, D.C. Michelle hadn't planned on it, but she felt compelled to speak, articulating the plight of veterans after they returned home from combat.

When she finished, a representative from the U.S. Department of Labor approached her and offered her a job leading military outreach. In the years that followed, Michelle became active in public policy discourse, advocating for veterans' rights. By 2008, she was testifying before Congress, helping secure millions of dollars in funding for a veterans' housing and rehabilitation center in her native Massachusetts.

"It was the most surreal and confusing time of my life," she said. "I should have died on May 1, 2004, but I began to understand why I survived."

In June 2017, Michelle landed her current role at United, heading up our Talent Acquisition team's military recruitment efforts. Meeting with prospective veteran employees, she helps them navigate the difficulties of transitioning to a civilian career. But it's not about hiring veterans for the sake of hiring veterans. The work Michelle does benefits the job seeker, but it's also tremendously valuable to our company.

"Investing in military recruiting makes business sense," she said, listing off the qualities that many veterans possess, things like a fully developed concept of teamwork, adaptability and leadership. Those attributes, as Michelle will attest, are particularly well suited to the airline industry.

Today, she has found new meaning leading soldiers in a different kind of fight, one that can feel just as daunting as combat for many. Michelle learned her way through trial and error; by hitting rock bottom, dusting herself off, and getting back up. Through her tireless efforts on behalf of United, she's making sure other veterans don't have to go through what she did, and she's making us a stronger airline for it.

You can send military veteran referrals to Michelle and her team by emailing them at VeteranRecruiting@united.com.


Blast from the past: Flight Attendant reconnects with childhood inspiration

By Matt Adams

Chicago-based Flight Attendant Tristan Schnabel tried not to stare, but he couldn't help himself. Though it was the first time the two of them had ever worked a flight together, Schnabel was sure he had seen Los Angeles-based Captain Rafael Gutierrez before; he just couldn't place where. Then, suddenly, it hit him.

The week prior, while visiting his mom, Schnabel had loaded his cell phone with old family pictures, including one that was taken when he was 10 years old, of him posing with a United captain. After scrolling through his phone and finding it, Schnabel couldn't believe what he was seeing — he was nearly certain the man sitting next to him in that 15-year-old photo was Gutierrez.

Schnabel showed the picture to a couple of his flight crew colleagues to see what they thought, and their reactions convinced him that his eyes weren't playing tricks on him. It was the same guy, no doubt about it. After finishing the preflight checklist, he approached Gutierrez and tapped him on the shoulder.

"I said, 'Hey, is this you in this photo?'" Schnabel says. "When he saw it, he just started laughing and said, 'Yeah, that's me!' He couldn't believe it, either."

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs with a mom and stepdad who both worked at United headquarters, Schnabel was a frequent flier, taking full advantage of the family's flight privileges any chance he got. As a precocious youth with an inquiring mind, he also never missed a chance to talk with the pilots and flight attendants he met. He remembers a lot of those conversations fondly, but the one with Gutierrez, who invited him up to the flight deck and let him sit in the right seat, had always stood out.

Since becoming a United pilot in 1989, Gutierrez has done his best to get kids interested in aviation, and he's given a lot of tours of his workspace at the front of the aircraft. To him, bumping into Schnabel wasn't just astonishing, it was further confirmation that those extra efforts over the years have indeed made an impact.

"If young people want to come up to the flight deck and take pictures, I have always welcomed that," Gutierrez says. "It's a great profession, and I encourage them to consider any flying-related careers. I was surprised when Tristan showed me the photo, but more than that, I was touched when he said I was one of the inspirations behind him getting into aviation."

To his credit, Schnabel makes a point of following Gutierrez's example in that regard, too, handing out plastic wings to youngsters on his flights and answering their questions about the work he does.

"I tell them it's a great life," he says. "You get to travel the world and meet new people every day. When I have those conversations, I think back to meeting Captain Gutierrez. I love what I do, and getting to talk with the kids is one of the best parts of the job."

Watch the new Big Metal Bird: Veterans

By The Hub team

Neighbors, coworkers, parents, protectors, heroes. All of these labels and more encompass the men and women whose devotion to our country serves as the truest embodiment of the American spirit. We're talking about Veterans. Join host Phil Torres as he heads to our nation's capital to learn more about these heroes and to explore just how many United employees are veterans on this Big Metal Bird.

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