One in a million
For hundreds of years, sailors have celebrated crossing the equator for the first time with an “Order of Neptune" ceremony. Once their ship moves into the next hemisphere, first-timers, called Pollywogs, are initiated as Trusty Shellbacks. It's a proud day, as any sailor will tell you, when they become a Shellback, free to call the open sea their home. We like to think that certain milestones in the air should be honored in a similar fashion. Like racking up a million miles on our flights, for instance.
Accumulating 1 million miles is no small feat. To put it in context, a million miles is roughly the equivalent of circling the globe 40 times. It's the equivalent of flying to the moon and back — twice.
We're fortunate to serve millions of frequent flyers each year, from business travelers to vacationers, but only a small fraction ever reach the rarified air of being called a “million miler." And we commemorate this impressive accomplishment for our customers in memorable ways, from personalized cards and bottles of champagne to private tours of the flight deck to rounds of applause at the gate and gifts.
When customer Donald Lee's son Jonathan found out that his father was on the verge of reaching 1 million miles on United earlier this year, he contacted SVP of Customers Sandra Pineau-Boddison and asked if we could make the event special. When Mr. Lee arrived for his flight from SFO to FLL (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), where he would reach the 1 million mark, SFO's Global Services team surprised him at the gate with gifts including a bottle of champagne, English tea, Italian coffee, Swiss chocolates and United swag. They then invited him onto the aircraft to take photos with the crew before other customers boarded. Mr. Lee said he was blown away by the gesture, even bragging about it to his son — who once tried to persuade him to try a competing airline. This experience certainly proved that father knows best.
SFO Airport Operations Supervisor Joey Tidalgo takes pride in how their Global Services representatives and Inflight Services treat million-mile fliers. “We have one of the largest Global Services populations here in the Bay Area, so we see a lot of these customers leaving and arriving at SFO, and we want to give them the recognition that they deserve," he said.
For Joey and the SFO team, it's an opportunity to form a personal connection with customers. “We all treat it like we're planning a party for a friend," Joey said. “In Mr. Lee's case, he was so happy and surprised by what we did for him. It felt really good and it was special for the employees who were part of it, too."
In May, customer Celeste Linhard achieved the 2 million mile mark, while her husband, Tom, was not far behind. The Linhards booked a trip from Newark to Athens, Greece where Thomas would surpass 2 million miles on the return flight. When Premier Qualification Manager Samantha Wells learned of the Linhards' plans, she worked with Alex Dorow, Senior Manager, Global Services to coordinate with the Athens Service Manager, Newark Global Services and Inflight Services teams to give Mr. and Mrs. Linhard a send-off that they wouldn't forget. “As far fewer passengers ever make it to 2 million-plus miles," said Samantha. “We recognize those customers in a more robust way."
The Premier Program team ensured that the Linhards were pre-cleared for an upgrade and Global Services representatives met them at their gate. Once on board, the flight service manager made an announcement, congratulating them on their accomplishment. Global Services Representative Robert Ruiz served them champagne and a cake prior to departing.
Making the Linhards' story even more unique is Tom's lifelong connection to United: his father was a captain with the airline for 30 years and his mother was a flight attendant. They met while working at Capital Airlines, which merged with United in 1960. “I have been flying United since my toddler years," Tom said. “What a wonderful company and family it is."
These are but a few examples of the lengths our employees across several departments go to make customers feel appreciated. While airport and inflight recognitions vary, all of our million milers receive an emailed congratulations note and a million mile membership kit, complete with a membership card and a framed certificate to certify their accomplishment. Customers who reach 2+ million miles also receive the option to choose from a variety of gifts, including tech gadgets, travel gear and designer handbags.
Samantha understands the importance this sort of recognition plays in showing our customers how much they matter. “We want to do everything that we can to make them feel special and to show them that these events do not go unnoticed," she said.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom, a video conferencing tool that many people are using to stay connected.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.
We have operated more than 56 repatriation flights from Panama City, Guatemala City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, bringing nearly 8,000 people home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles and beginning April 5, we will begin operating multiple charter flights between Delhi and San Francisco. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.
Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.
Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:
- Quito, Ecuador
- Managua, Nicaragua
- Roatan, Honduras
- San Pedro Sula, Honduras
- Seoul, South Korea
- Melbourne, Australia
We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.
In the midst of mobilizing our cargo operations, our teams at New York/Newark (EWR) and Jacksonville (JAX) stepped in to assist Roche Diagnostics with transporting a vital component for an instrument being used for COVID-19 testing.
The component was stuck at EWR en route to the Mayo Clinic in Florida after another airline's flights were cancelled. A Roche employee contacted us asking for help and, within a few hours, our teams had the piece loaded onto a Jacksonville-bound aircraft, with arrangements in place to deliver it to the Mayo Clinic.
The item we shipped will allow the Mayo Clinic in Florida to process hundreds of COVID-19 tests per day. Mayo Clinic Laboratories has been on the front lines of increasing testing capacity to expedite caring for patients at this critical time and working to ease the burden being felt at test processing laboratories in a growing number of areas.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.