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.
Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.
When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.
They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.
I want them to look no further than United Airlines.
That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.
They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.
That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.
We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.
We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.
We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.
As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.
Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.
They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.
Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.
Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.
Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.
But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.
We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.
It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.
On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.
Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.
"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.
"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."
Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.
The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.
Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.
Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.
Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.
"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."
When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.
For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.
Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.
That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.
"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."
The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.
About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.
"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."
When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.
"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."
On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.
"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."
For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.