Three Perfect Days: New Orleans
Story and Photography by Sam Polcer | Hemispheres, March 2017
Few places know how to throw a party like the city that gave us jazz, the po'boy, the Sazerac, and the expression "Laissez les bons temps rouler." Indulgence, creativity, and celebration are cornerstones of the culture here. The most common dinner-table topic is tomorrow's lunch. People dance with strangers in the street because that's just what you do. And even as the city nears its 300th birthday next year, age has not slowed it down; reinvention and renewal are a part of life here. Musicians, chefs, artists, entrepreneurs—even the lushes staggering down Bourbon Street in the early hours—all are driven by the bright belief that tomorrow will bring something new. "Let the good times roll," indeed.
In which Sam ignores good advice, discovers two secret gardens, and applauds a bag of fish
My younger brother, Ben, a jazz musician, doesn't dispense advice often, but upon hearing I was going to New Orleans, he weighed in on Bourbon Street: "If you only have three days, you can probably skip it."
Having enjoyed a fortifying night's rest at the hip Seattle export Ace Hotel, I start the day by ignoring my brother's advice, making my way through a lobby of leather couches, eclectic art, and dark wood finishes and heading out into the sunshine in search of the most theatrically hedonistic spot in the U.S.
No more than 10 steps into the French Quarter, I find myself dancing around the sudsy rivulets left behind by the street cleaners. For a city that so famously honors the past, New Orleans sure seems in a hurry to put last night behind it—which is more than can be said for the pair of imbibers who emerge from a doorway, blinking, attempting to solve The Riddle of the Upside-Down Cellphone.
A Brandan Odums mural in the Bywater
Farther "downriver"—cardinal directions are scoffed at here, due to a grid that takes its cues from the winding Mississippi—Bourbon Street reveals its quieter side, the wrought-iron balconies and signs promoting daiquiri-and-pizza combos giving way to homes with painted shutters and manicured foliage.
A block after Bourbon turns into Pauger Street, I hang a right, and I'm at Horn's, a casual eatery on a quiet corner of the Marigny, a madly colorful neighborhood where the strains of practicing violinists drown out the traffic. Waiting for me at a covered sidewalk table is Catherine Todd, cofounder of Where Y'Art, a local gallery whose online branch allows users not only to view and purchase the works of local artists but to chat with them as well.
A native New Orleanian, Todd has offered to show me around the Bywater, a J-shaped neighborhood east of the Quarter that was once plantation land and is now a flourishing artist enclave. Despite its preponderance of hip restaurants and rising rents, the Bywater mercifully avoids Brooklyn comparisons—the Big Easy is the only place you'd find the sun-drenched Creole cottages, the bushes draped with Mardi Gras beads, and the swampy, edge-of-the-Earth stillness that surrounds you here.
Catherine Todd, co-founder, Where Y'art
Todd is a part of an insurgence of businesspeople who are setting up shop in the city's converted warehouses and formerly shuttered storefronts. "The entrepreneurial community is huge," she says. "There's a compacted creative energy here that sparks true originality." Breakfast served, our waitress notices how eagerly I'm digging into my ample order of fried-oyster Benedict atop cornbread. "Waffle for the table?" she suggests, gently. "Sure," I mumble. "For the table."
From here, we walk two blocks to Todd's gallery, which has bright street artworks displayed on peeling plaster and brick walls. Then we hop over to the New Orleans Art Center, a warren of studios and exhibition spaces in the Ninth Ward. In the main space is an ambitious photography show featuring work by Louisiana artists, including a hauntingly beautiful image of a clarinet transformed (not destroyed) by Hurricane Katrina, its metallic components oxidized into striated patterns that seem to glow.
Next up is Good Children, which was one of the first galleries to plant its flag in the neighborhood, about a decade ago. It's in a white box space run by a 12-artist collective that includes Louisiana-born Brian Guidry, who is waiting for us when we arrive. Guidry's work runs the gamut from collages of found materials to paintings, some of which use flattened La Croix drink boxes as canvases. "Grapefruit works well," he says of the medium.
"The New Orleans dialect is a little-known slice of the English language known as Yat, which stems from our tendency to shorten any expression into something slurrier. Hence, 'Where you at?' becomes 'Where y'at?' becomes 'Yat?'" —Catherine Todd
Upon exiting the dim space, Todd shields her eyes. "I feel like I just walked out of a casino!" she says, and then: "Come on, let's close out this tour with a visit to a giant alligator." She is referring to Nnamdi the Gator, a vast purple mural by Devin DeWulf. We arrive to find the artist applying the finishing touches. He seems to be in a buoyant mood: "Hey, want to hear some fun facts about 'gators?"
Having learned that alligators are capable of eating 23 percent of their body weight in one meal, I head for lunch at the Joint, a Bywater mainstay where co-owner Pete Breen delivers a basket that's straining to hold smoky brisket, juicy pulled pork, and tender dry-rubbed ribs. This type of slow-cooked barbecue wasn't easy to find before Breen and his wife came to town. "New Orleans always had chicken, ribs, and soul food," he says, but before he can finish the thought, a guy at the next table initiates a barbecue-related discussion so complex you might mistake the two men for chemists.
"That's New Orleans for you," Breen says when the guy has left. "He could have called his wife, she would have come down, and we'd be sitting here for another two hours."
I head up Esplanade Avenue, past blocks of 19th-century mansions, then walk off my meat basket with a stroll through the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. It's a lovely spot, its 200-year-old live oaks draped with Spanish moss and interspersed with scores of artworks ranging from Renoir's bronze Venus Victorius to Leandro Erlich's gravity-defying protest piece Window and Ladder—Too Late for Help. Young musicians lazily strum guitars alongside a lagoon. The effect is mesmerizing.
Ribs at the Joint
My next stop is another secret garden of sorts, this one hidden behind a two-story corrugated steel wall. Inside, the nonprofit outfit New Orleans Airlift recently created Music Box Village, a shantytown of treehouselike sound sculptures: Stairs are keyboards, window shutters are drums, pluckable piano wire is strung across walls. It's like a park-size music studio codesigned by Rube Goldberg and Dr. Seuss. The venue is hosting a performance tonight by local outfit Tank and the Bangas, but before the show Airlift founders Delaney Martin and Jay Pennington (aka DJ Rusty Lazer) allow me to rattle, bang, honk, and squawk my way through the structures, which causes the sound techs to wince.
Mercifully, the performers soon commandeer the houses for a musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. A rapt audience sits on picnic blankets as Tank, in a blue ball gown and golden tiara, joins a trio of ballerinas in a whimsical musical yarn. Things take a turn for the weird when the "Queen of Bounce," Big Freedia, starts rapping into the mouthpiece of a modified phone booth topped by a spinning loudspeaker. Only in New Orleans.
I go from looking glass to Collins glass across town at the recently reopened Pontchartrain Hotel's Caribbean Room. A smoky, tiki-esque rum cocktail is followed by a spicy, sweet appetizer of crispy oysters topped with bacon jam, blue cheese, and a spot of jalapeño. For the finale, a waiter slices into a piping hot paper bag to reveal delicate pompano, fingerling potatoes, saffron, and shrimp soaking in a crab butter sauce. It's so good, when the waiter asks me how it was, I clap.
A piece in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
As I leave, a hostess tells me the waiting area outside the dining room is one of the most Instagrammed spots in all of the Big Easy, thanks to a painting of New Orleans hip-hop star Lil Wayne with an order of the restaurant's signature Mile High Pie, his eyes closed and teeth bared in an expression that can only be described as rapturous. Maybe I should have had the pie.
There's time for a final cocktail at the Pontchartrain's fashionable rooftop bar, Hot Tin. I order a Menage Mule—the bar's floral, Frenchified take on the classic Moscow Mule—and then I order another. All around me, the city glimmers, its unsteady constellation of lights sending a kind of coded message: "Oh go on, one more."
In which Sam wakes up to Satchmo, finds a freak flag to fly, and tries a classic cocktail more than once
I'm roused from my sleep by the historic, tourist-stuffed St. Charles streetcar rolling down Carondelet Avenue, visible from underneath the single eyelid I've pried open in my corner room at the Ace.
The decor in the room is as thought out and impeccably disheveled as the staff's haircuts, with an assortment of Deco-inspired furniture, vintage accents, and approximately 50 shades of black. There's also a bedside Martin guitar, along with a turntable and a small vinyl collection by the window. Having bungled a few chords on the guitar, I thumb through the records, passing on The Art of the Japanese Bamboo Flute for Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." When he gets to the bit about "the bright, blessed day," I glance at the window. Maybe a little too bright.
I head out and make my way through Lafayette Square to Revelator Coffee Company, purveyor of "third wave" artisanal joe. I supplement the high-end caffeine with a croissant and a bottle of Big Easy Bucha kombucha, and board the historic sleep-disturbing streetcar feeling much revived. We roll along for a while on St. Charles Avenue, heading upriver, until it's time for me to jump out for some shopping on Magazine Street.
Garden District architecture
First, I swing by the candy-toned gallery of Ashley Longshore, who painted that portrait of Lil Wayne. The sought-after artist (Penélope Cruz, Ryan Reynolds, and Eli Manning are collectors) leads me past her oversize paintings, folksy avant-garde depictions of famous faces, and through to her studio. "Anyone can come back here," she says. "But they may have to do some bedazzling. It's like, 'If you're gonna gawk, you're gonna glue while you gawk!'"
I dodge bedazzling duty and instead get Longshore's take on the local arts scene. "We celebrate weirdness and wildness in a way that no other city does," she says. "You'll see a herd of people in Elvis or Wonder Woman costumes and think, 'Oh, just another Saturday in New Orleans.' It's a place where people can really let their freak flag fly."
If you're in the market for freak flags, Magazine Street is a good place to start. My first stop is the quirky vintage shop Funky Monkey, where you can buy anything from a Hawaiian shirt to an astronaut helmet. At Saint Claude Social Club, hand-painted scarves share space with sequined dresses and French candles. At Defend New Orleans, a pierced shopkeeper presides over a selection of ironic posters, small-press books, and other dorm-room essentials (not surprisingly, another location recently opened at the Ace). I end up buying a black banner bearing a skull emblazoned with a fleur-de-lis, the symbol of New Orleans.
Robin Barnes, "The Songbird of New Orleans"
Mom's gift secured, I head for brunch at Cavan, a new "coastal American" restaurant set back from Magazine Street in a Victorian townhouse. I secure a table by the window and settle in with a Sazerac, a classic New Orleans whiskey-based drink that some believe to be America's oldest cocktail. Next comes a cast-iron skillet sizzling with buttery shrimp and grits, along with roasted tomato toast topped with goat cheese, bacon marmalade, and a fried egg. If ever there was a meal designed to make you smile, this is it.
After brunch, I go for a stroll through the tony Garden District and get lost among showy crepe myrtle trees and towering live oaks, peeping through rod-iron fences at block after block of Greek Revival and Italianate mansions. Initially a retreat for New Orleans' merchant class in the mid-19th century, the neighborhood now claims Sandra Bullock and John Goodman among its residents.
"People are sometimes shocked by how engaged I am with the audience. But that's New Orleans. They're always dancing and laughing and taking off their shoes by the end of the night." —Robin Barnes
I'm enjoying the walk; it's wonderfully serene, even with the three-cocktail-lunch crowds tottering out of celebrity chef factory Commander's Palace. Across the street is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of the city's aboveground graveyards (when much of your city is below sea level, it doesn't make sense to put anything underground, even tombs) but pass on a tour, thinking the folks inside have the right idea. It's time to lie down.
Back downtown, I check in at the recently restored Windsor Court Hotel, where it's afternoon tea time, just off the lobby in Le Salon. It's an unabashedly refined welcome—in keeping with the decor and in stark contrast to the Ace—with polite laughter rising above a tinkling harp. As wonderful as it all is, I skip the tea, opting instead for a plump pillow, billowing curtains, and zzzzz. I awake just before dusk to catch a glimpse of the Mississippi from my balcony—the Windsor Court is one of the few big hotels in New Orleans to boast such a feature—and hit the town.
Dinner is nearby at Compère Lapin, housed in The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery and helmed by Top Chef alum Nina Compton. Seated in a converted warehouse with industrial accents and faux–French farmhouse details, I gnaw on a starter of spiced pig ears dipped in smoked aioli. "New Orleans is such a beautiful city, and the people really appreciate food," Compton tells me between courses. It's easy to appreciate her Caribbean-meets-Creole seafood stew, and also the curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi and cashews.
A little later, at the Windsor Court's Polo Club Lounge, I let it slip to jazz singer Robin Barnes that I skipped dessert to catch the end of her first set. She flags down a waitress. "Two Bananas Foster, please!" The local girl has just learned that her latest album debuted on the Billboard Jazz chart, but her enthusiasm appears to be a constant. "I'll pick somebody outta the crowd and be like, 'Are you texting? What are you doing?'" she says of her local shows. "We're very much entertainers here in New Orleans. We'll get in your face and then make you sing and dance with us."
As Barnes takes the stage, joined by her father on bass, I sink back into a couch and sip another Sazerac. By the time she breaks into the blues classic "Can't Help Falling in Love," I've decided I'd happily spend the night sitting right here. But I can't call it a night without hitting the local music scene, so I heave myself to my feet and hail a cab to Frenchmen Street.
Tank and the Bangas play at Music Box Village
I have no idea which club I'm going to, but that's OK. There is so much music packed into a two-block stretch that it feels like a festival. The street is jammed with people ping-ponging from club to club; discovering what's happening inside each of them is half the fun. Due in part to a steady stream of Louisiana-brewed Abita beer, the sounds blend together: reggae into bluegrass into Dixieland. After a set by the energetic Jumbo Shrimp Jazz Band at The Spotted Cat Music Club, I take a breather at an outdoor night market tucked into an alley, where I pick up a pair of coyote paw–bone earrings for Mom (in case the black flag isn't a hit).
Before bed, I stop for a game of pool at R Bar, a local dive around the corner that offers both a shot-and-a-beer and a shot-and-a-haircut special. After a while, I realize that I'm as likely to get a buzzcut as I am a beer, so I head back to the hotel, passing through streets that, disconcertingly, have started to twitter.
In which Sam ponders the patients of a saint, dances in the street, and learns his future
As day breaks over the Mississippi, I'm feeling a bit like the guy in "The House of the Rising Sun," the cautionary song about the debilitating effects of New Orleans nightlife popularized by the Animals in 1964: "Oh mother tell your children/Not to do what I have done!"
A blurry half-hour later, I'm in a cab heading downriver to Press Street Station, a warehouselike eatery operated by the NOCCA Institute, a tuition-free arts school that counts among its alums Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. The space feels appropriately youthful and arty: A drums-and-keys duo performs lounge music while neon-haired line cooks prepare comfort food. I have sourdough teetering with sausage, pimento cheese, and fried eggs, served with lyonnaise potatoes. That's better.
For a further pick-me-up, I pop into the St. Roch's Campo Santo, a cemetery in the nearby St. Roch neighborhood, to pay my respects to the patron saint of the sick. In a small neo-Gothic chapel, I find an anteroom cluttered with discarded medical items: crutches, braces, prosthetic limbs, plaster models of brains, dental plates, plus some handwritten prayers. I don't have anything to leave behind, so I give the statue of Saint Roch—a 14th-century French-Italian priest who miraculously survived a dose of the plague—a hopeful wink instead.
Tombs at St. Roch's Santo Campo
That wink is about to be put to the test. I'm watching floats, musicians, and dancers muster in a high school parking lot in the Desire neighborhood, in preparation for the Nine Times Social Aid & Pleasure Club Second Line Parade. DJs dry-run their rumbling sound systems; trombones and trumpets blast. An elderly woman dressed in her Sunday best stands nearby, peering through a fence. I ask if she's part of the club. "I just came from church to see my grandson, who's marching," she replies, adding, "My feet hurt."
The parade rolls down Higgins Boulevard, and what follows is the most fun a person can have while walking—well, dancing—down the street. Acrobatic kids leap and sway while twirling elaborate parasols. Costumed club members toss beads from the backs of floats. Men ride by on tricycles carting coolers stocked with cold beer while smoke pours from enormous grills along the "neutral ground" (the New Orleans term for a median). "This is my absolute favorite thing in all of New Orleans," a local woman says above the booming drums. She's in luck: Events like this happen somewhere in the city nearly every Sunday.
I'm still buzzing when I arrive at The Napoleon House, a bar and restaurant in a landmarked French Quarter building. I'm having lunch with Ben Jaffe, the wild-haired, tuba-playing leader of the famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I tell him about the parade, which gets us talking about the city's many social aid and pleasure clubs, whose lineages can be traced back to 19th-century "benevolent societies." More recently, these clubs played a vital role in the post-Katrina recovery, especially for African-American communities.
"New Orleans has its own unique ways of dealing with its complicated, painful, and beautiful past," Jaffe says. "I've heard this city described in so many ways, and so many of them are true. All I know is, we gave the world Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Sweet Emma Barrett, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John…"
New Orleans also gave the world the muffuletta, a sandwich comprising a seeded roll the size of a small Frisbee stacked with ham, salami, pastrami, Swiss and provolone cheese, and olive salad—antipasto in a bun, basically. I order mine with a side of red beans and rice and a fruity Pimm's Cup. The Napoleon House serves more of this low-alcohol cocktail than any other establishment in the world. I add to the lead by ordering another.
As I say goodbye to Jaffe, he invites me to swing by Preservation Hall later for a performance. Until then, I'm leaving the past behind. My next destination is the future.
Ben Jaffe, bandleader, Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Brought to Louisiana by West African slaves in the 18th century, voodoo has deep roots in New Orleans. So when I go for a spiritual reading, I'm not expecting to be greeted by a 30-something Pacific Northwest transplant named Geoff. But there's Geoff, standing amid the candles and chicken feet at Island of Salvation Botanica, a shop set in a former city jail. Mysterious items fill the shelves: protection fetishes, voodoo dolls, crystal balls, an apothecary of oils, powders, herbs, and tinctures with names like "Banishment." Geoff locks the door, dims the lights, and leads me to a small table. He closes his eyes, opens them again, flips a few tarot cards, and gives me a quick rundown of my destiny. I learn that I should not, under any circumstances, quit my job to become a trombonist in a second line.
Eerily, a trombone happens to be in my immediate future. It's in the hands of Freddie Lonzo, who's leading a conga line around Preservation Hall, doing a rousing rendition of "St. Louis Blues." Founded in 1961 by Ben Jaffe's parents, "The Hall" hosts performances every night. The shows tend to be lively affairs, but there's a reverential feel to the austere room, which has wooden benches but no bar (patrons can bring their own booze). When clarinetist Orange Kellin wails the last solo on Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," I'm fully transported to another time.
"There are a lot of people who feel the pain of not living here. They come to New Orleans, and they experience the magic of this city, and when they leave, there's this piece of them that's missing." —Ben Jaffe
Back in the present, I summon a taxi and head to the Garden District. The car drops me at Shaya, the modern Israeli legend-in-the-making eatery that won the 2016 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. Even the basics here, like the pillows of steaming pita sliding out of the blue-tiled oven in the back, are extraordinary. I get an order and use it to scoop up harissa-spiced lamb and creamy hummus. Gumbo schmumbo, I think. Crawfish schmawfish. A battery of small plates follows, many with names I don't recognize but tastes that feel familiar, even ancient. A waiter comes by to clear the table, but I ward him off as if I'm hoarding precious stones. "More bread, then?" Yes. Bring the bread.
I'm starting to resemble a steaming pillow of pita myself, so I head back to the Quarter for a nightcap at the upscale rum house Cane and Table. When I arrive, two metalheads are comparing musical notes with a bartender who's wearing a bow tie over a Hawaiian shirt and doing something with a coconut. Co-owner Nick Detrich arrives to walk me through the drinks menu, part of which includes cocktails inspired by the favorite tipples of the founding fathers. I get a Price of Pearls, based on a punch that allegedly fueled the drafting of the Bill of Rights. "It tastes like a lemon tree smells," a waitress offers. It does. It also has me feeling patriotic, so I salute the helpful staff and march off into the night.
Mid-march, I get a text from my brother. One of the bands he plays with, King James and the Special Men, is performing at Saturn Bar, not too far away on St. Claude Avenue. I should come, he says, and this time I listen. When I arrive, I wonder if he texted half the people in New Orleans. The place is packed and sweating to a version of Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly." I hit the dance floor and lose myself in old sounds made new, the traditional made wild and jubilant—which is the way they do things here.
Brooklyn-based writer and photographer Sam Polcer didn't get the reaction he was hoping for when he returned home and began dancing down the street swinging a parasol.
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Porto: Portugal’s surprising second city
“Second cities" or those that rank #2 in population often surprise world travelers. And second doesn't mean second-rate. Porto is Portugal's second city — so off-the-radar that many world travelers haven't even heard of it. Yet, Porto and nearby spots in northern Portugal can be delightful destinations even if you don't visit the more well-known city of Lisbon.
Old city by day
The best place to get oriented, as in most European cities, is in the old city center. Porto's Old City is so well-preserved that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 12th-century cathedral and the 15th-century Church of St. Francis, notable for interior wood carvings gilded by hundreds of pounds of gold, are mixed in with a rich collection of imposing granite, red-roofed Baroque buildings. Add 225 stairs and a stirring view to your walking tour by ascending the 250-foot-high Clérigos Church bell tower, built in 1754, which dominates the Porto skyline. Historic bridges over the Douro River and Soares dos Reis National Museum, an art museum housed in a palace, are also excellent sites to see.
Food and music by night
Porto's youthful population has turned it into a lively city after dark. You might start off the evening in the Old City at Abadia do Porto, a 1939 restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese dishes like roasted lamb and grilled octopus, or at Astoria, with its modern Portuguese fare served inside a former palace. Whether you choose a Portuguese, French or fusion restaurant, seafood is likely to be highlighted, drawing on Porto's proximity to the Atlantic and the Douro. Then, you can head to the large collection of bars and nightclubs in the nearby Galerias district, which includes Radio Bar, inside a former court building, and Gare, a disco in a tunnel that stays open until 6 a.m.
Head west to the beaches
The closest Atlantic beaches to central Porto are at Foz do Douro (mouth of the Douro), just 20 minutes away by city bus. But why settle? In a rental car you can explore Atlantic beaches and beach towns that extend for hundreds of miles along Portugal's coastline. Two of the best are Foz do Minho, the nation's northernmost oceanic beach that's just across the Minho River from Spain, and Quiaios, a dune-fringed paradise of sand south of Porto. Many beaches in northern Portugal are cradled in coves protected by rocky promontories, similar to northern California and Oregon beaches.
Or east to the wine country
The Douro Valley wine region is another World Heritage Site and one of the world's best and most scenic wine regions. It's up the Douro River from Porto by boat or 90 minutes by road. Namesake port wines and other fortified wines are the region's signature beverages, which can be sampled at tasting rooms on the Douro along N-222, a wine road that's been called the world's most scenic drive. While you're in the area, check out the wine and anthropology museums in the wine towns and yet another World Heritage Site — Coa Valley Archaeological Park — known for its prehistoric rock carvings.
Portugal's Mediterranean climate and coastal breezes bless it with mild weather year round, as the average temperature ranges from 57 degrees (and rain) in January to 78 degrees (and a little rain) in August. Whenever you come, there's no need to learn Portuguese as English is spoken even more widely than elsewhere in Western Europe. Once you arrive, rent a car only if you don't mind ridiculous drivers. The trains are more relaxing — light-rail and subway trains crisscross the Porto area and funicular cable cars climb its steepest hills. There's even a scenic train that follows the Douro nearly to Spain, with a roundtrip fare of only about $30.
Portugal requires that visitor passports don't expire until at least three months after the arrival date, so check that. Next, buy some Euros (for a great exchange rate) and reserve a flight. United Airlines flies nonstop from New York/Newark to Porto and MileagePlus® award miles can be redeemed to cover accommodations and Hertz rentals. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.
United 787-10 Dreamliner launch
Story was contributed by: Jennifer Lake | Photography: Alicia of Aesthetica
It was a typical Monday morning. I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking coffee, reviewing my to-do list for the week. All around me, heels are clacking through the office and phones ring intermittently. However, this particular Monday morning was different. Ultimately, I would receive an offer from my favorite airline for a collaboration to participate in the United 787-10 Dreamliner launch from Los Angeles LAX to New York/Newark EWR. Read the full story here featured on Style Charade.
Fit for the runway: We begin testing new uniforms
Last year we announced new partnerships with Tracy Reese, Brooks Brothers and Carhartt — best-in-class fashion and apparel designers — to help reimagine uniforms for more than 70,000 of our employees. Focusing on high quality fabrics, improved breathability and overall enhanced fit, our goal is to design and develop a more cohesive collection that looks good, feels good and enables employees to perform at their best on behalf of our customers.
United employees can learn more on the uniform designs by visiting Flying Together.
An insider's guide to Boston
Boston is a pack-it-all-in kind of place. Founded in 1630, one of America's oldest cities does many things well. Boston's many claims to fame include many of America's oldest historic landmarks and one of its oldest ballparks. It's a destination for history buffs, culture vultures, foodies, sports fans, families and more. No matter who your travel companions are or what they're interested in, everyone will find something to pique their interest in Beantown.
Getting there & around town
Fly direct to Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) from many U.S. cities — visit united.com or use the United app to book your flight. Flights are 90 minutes from New York, two hours from Cleveland and five to six hours from California. From Logan International Airport, it's easy to hail a taxi, use ridesharing apps or take public transportation. If you want to take the scenic route, take a water taxi across Boston Harbor directly into downtown.
Downtown Boston is easy to navigate. It's walkable and taxis are plentiful. The MBTA, Boston's public transportation system, offers affordable access to Cambridge, many attractions and the suburbs. Keep in mind it's one of the oldest transportation systems in the country, so expect a few bumps. Because the city is dense, parking can be expensive or hard to find, so avoid driving if you can.
When to visit
Summer and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Summer is prime time to enjoy Boston's many parks, outdoor eateries, open-air concerts and baseball games at Fenway Park. Mild fall weather, beautiful autumn foliage and Halloween festivities in nearby Salem, Massachusetts make October one of Boston's busiest months. The city also sees an influx of visitors for the Boston Marathon in April. You'll find smaller crowds and more affordable prices in winter, but brace yourself for the cold.
What to do
There's so much to take in just by walking through Boston's cobblestoned streets. Downtown is quaint, compact and easy to explore by foot. The small city is packed with historic sites, New England's finest food, proud sports fans and friendly locals.
As the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston's historic sites are an attraction in themselves. Walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to visit 16 of them around the city, including Revolutionary-era museums, churches, buildings and an impressive warship. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is on the trail, too, and is one of Boston's top attractions, with plentiful shopping, dining and live music. Not much of a walker? Boston Duck Tours operate land-and-water historic tours on World War II-inspired vehicles, which transform from truck to boat mid-tour.
Many museums and sites are tucked along Boston Harbor. The waterfront is always bustling with activity year-round. The harborwalk is the perfect place to meander and explore without a strict agenda. Plan to visit a major attraction or two, but leave time to enjoy the scenery or to pop into a café for a coffee and sweet treat (award-winning Flour Bakery + Cafe is a local favorite).
Deemed the “Athens of America," Boston boasts not only some of the country's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings, but also a thriving arts and culture scene. You could spend your entire trip touring its dozens of world-class museums. Take in classical music at the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra, or take a leisurely stroll through Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, the city's most well-known public parks. Riding the giant Swan Boats through the Public Garden lagoon is a kitschy, yet delightful experience, especially for kids.
What to eat
What must you absolutely eat in Boston? In short, everything. Long ago the city was nicknamed Beantown, allegedly after slow-cooked molasses baked beans served to sailors and traders. Today, Boston continues its reputation as a great eating city. From clam chowder to cannoli, the most popular dishes here are often hearty and decadent. Boston is also known for fresh lobster rolls, roast beef sandwiches and, of course, Boston cream pie.
Ask any Bostonian where to find “the best" of anything, and everyone will recommend a different spot. Cannoli from Mike's Pastry, Boston cream pie from Omni Parker House (where it was invented) and the roast beef 1000 sandwich from Cutty's frequently top the must-try lists. If you make it to a ball game at Fenway Park, Fenway Franks are a Boston staple.
Our role in ‘Spider-Man™: Far From Home’
In Columbia Pictures upcoming release in association with Marvel Studios, "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," our web-slinging hero finds himself – yep, you guessed it – far from his home in New York City. And since flying is one of the few superpowers Spider-Man doesn't possess, we gave him a little help, meaning United is featured in the film.
The scenes of Peter Parker and his pals traveling to Europe take place on one of our Boeing 777s with the all-new United Polaris® business class, and several of our employees – including members of our Tech Ops, Inflight, Flight Operations and Airport Operations teams – served as actors and production support during shoots at New York/Newark (EWR) and London-Stansted (STN).
London-Heathrow (LHR) Customer Service Representative Manjit Heer and LHR Cargo Warehouse Operations Manager Richard Miller were background extras on board, and multiple flight attendants had a role, including San Francisco (SFO) Flight Attendant Tammy Harris.
"It was extremely surreal," said Tammy. "I was in my element because I was on the plane in uniform, but not really, because I'm not an actor."
Tammy said she hit her mark and delivered her line with gusto, and she's excited to see if she made the final cut when "Spider-Man™: Far From Home" hits worldwide theaters this summer.
"Hopefully, I'll have my two seconds of fame and all will be well," she joked.
Los Angeles (LAX) Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor Fernando Melendez is a veteran of several film shoots but said this one was his favorite. When the production went to London, he was one of five members of LAX Tech Ops who went over to look after our airplane and make adjustments to its interior based on the filmmaker's needs.
"When we parked the plane at Stanstead, there were lights and cameras surrounding us. It was like the plane was the star of the movie," he said. "Each day, we would work with the assistant director; he would go through and say, 'Okay, for this shoot we need these seats, or these panels removed,' so they could get the camera angles. Pretty much, the airplane was our responsibility; we opened it in the morning and closed it at night. We were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every day."
Fernando said the actors were all very gracious and engaging, and said the whole experience was fantastic from start to finish. It also earned him a little cooler cred with his 18-year-old son, who is a massive Marvel fan.
Leading up to the film's premiere this year, there will be plenty of ways for employees and customers to get into the Spidey spirit in anticipation of our cameo. Stay tuned for more details.
Peter Parker returns in "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," the next chapter of the Spider-Man™: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter's plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!
Directed by Jon Watts, the film is written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film is produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Thomas M. Hammel, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Stan Lee, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach serve as executive producers. The film stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.
"Spider-Man™: Far From Home" makes its way to North American theaters on July 5, 2019.
What to expect from our improved app
20 million miles and counting...
On November 7, while flying from Newark Liberty International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport, United customer Tom Stuker made history when he reached 20 million miles flown on a single airline. We were fortunate enough to capture the milestone he reached with us.
To mark the special occasion, we hosted a celebration in Mr. Stuker's honor at the United Polaris lounge at O'Hare International Airport on Saturday. The celebration was delayed a couple of months, so Mr. Stuker could celebrate the event with his family.
The party included a room full of employees, media members and Mr. Stuker's friends and family enjoying food, cocktails, stories and laughs. To thank him for his long-standing loyalty to United, we also presented Mr. Stuker with gifts made specially for him.
"United makes my dreams come true," Mr. Stuker said to the room full of people.
He also praised United's MileagePlus program, the United Polaris lounges across our system and Oscar's leadership of the airline but, most of all, he praised the service he receives from our employees.
"My favorite part of United is the people. United is such a big part of my life…you are a family to me," he said addressing the United employees. "It would take me days and days and days to say thank you in the right way to the right people. They all know me by now and know how much I care about them as people, how much I care about this airline and its success, and how much I care about the greatest leader this airline has ever had, Oscar."
Bora Bora: The most beautiful island in the world
Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.
By Chicago-based United Club Customer Service Representative Amile Ribeiro.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I know it can be very subjective but, once you set your eyes on it, I'm sure you'll agree with me: Bora Bora is the most beautiful island in the world.
There are very few things that can get me out of bed early in the morning, and airplanes are one of those things. We were already in Tahiti and woke up at the crack of dawn to catch our quick flight to Bora Bora. After checking in at the airport and getting a quick breakfast, we headed over to the gate to line up for our flight. Air Tahiti has an open seating arrangement, and we wanted to make sure we got the best possible seats. We were able to secure two windows seats. Travel tip: Sit on the left side of the plane when landing in Bora Bora. We took off from Papeete and within minutes we were flying over Mo'orea. Then we flew around Ra'i ātea and Taha'a, and finally arrived in Bora Bora, the island that Polynesians call "First Born." Pora Pora is the actual local pronunciation, but the first explorers misunderstood it and 'Bora Bora' stuck. Though after setting foot on the island, I've come to call it "Paradise on Earth."
At the airport we were met by a representative of our resort, given flower leis and directed to our high-speed boat. I couldn't believe the color of the water; it was as if Paul Gauguin himself had painted it. After a thrilling ride, we reached our hotel's dock, where a local playing the ukulele welcomed us. We were then given a tour of the astonishing property and were taken by golf cart to our overwater bungalow. We have stayed in many beautiful properties around the world, but when we opened the door of our bungalow our jaws dropped. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that all should have at least once in their lifetimes. And worth every penny. The view of majestic Mount Otemanu is something right out of a fairy tale. After the sun set, the nighttime dance show was equally enchanting.
We had planned to be in Bora Bora during the final leg of the famous Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe competition, which happens to be a major event in the cultural life of French Polynesia and has the reputation for being the toughest canoe race in the world. The center stage was at the island's most beautiful beach, Matira. We stood in awe as the winners reached the finish line after several hours (and days before that) of frantic paddling from island to island, showcasing the power of human strength and endurance. Besides being an incredible sporting challenge, it is also a colorful spectacle that filled the beach with flower-clad women and the air with the pulsating beat of drums. We were also able to celebrate and dance with them later that night at the local ball in Vaitape (Bora Bora's largest city). It was a marvelous way to get a deeper understanding of another culture!
Besides having the time of our lives at the resort's infinity pools, inner lagoons and beach, we also went to the Turtle Center and had a chance to feed these amazing creatures while they're being rehabilitated to go back into open waters. From there, we took a boat tour of the main lagoon and went swimming with stingrays and sharks. Few things scare me in life, and sharks are on the very top of that short list, but I mustered the courage and what a thrill it was! To commemorate my bravery on the last day of our trip, I got my very first tattoo: a hammerhead shark. Polynesians believe that such sharks act as guardian angels to humans and protect us from the Great White. My husband got a Polynesian design that was custom made just for him, and it represents travel, freedom and courage. We also got a set of matching Polynesian wedding bands. Since the art of tattoo originated in Polynesia, this is the most enduring souvenir one can get from such an amazing culture, but I'm sure the memories of our trip will also stay with us forever!
The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".
Better Boarding consists of three key improvements
Less time in line:
By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.
Simplified gate layout
Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today
Group 1 will board through the blue lane.
Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.
Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.
Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.
We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.
Be in the know about boarding
Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).
Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.
Balanced groups and better recognition:
United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx
Improved premier customer recognition
We're happy to make them happy
Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.
The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience
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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.
From players and personnel to thousands of pounds of equipment, it takes not only a game plan, but a team to get the San Francisco 49ers to their next game and back all within 24 hours. This process is a little thing in the airline business we call chartering. Learn more about how our Charter team gets professional sports teams to their away games and back on the newest episode of Big Metal Bird.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.