United One in a Million - United Hub
customer experience

One in a million

By Matt Adams, August 12, 2016

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.

Donald Lee with United's Global Services Team

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."

The Linhard's Celebrate Reaching the 2 Million Mile Mark

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.

Cake and Champagne Served Inflight

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.

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