Three Perfect Days: Panama City
Story by Chris Sorensen | Photography by Joe Keohane | Hemispheres, January 2016
In the beginning, Panama was water. Then an isthmus formed, a strip of land born of immense tectonic forces that joined the American continents. It's been only a decade and a half since Panama has been entirely on its own, but the postcolonial era is off to a rollicking start: For two years running, Gallup-Healthways has named Panama the happiest place in the world, giving the country high marks in work satisfaction, physical well-being, and sense of community. If you've ever walked the streets of its capital, Panama City, and seen the smiling faces of its citizens, you don't need a statistician to tell you that this is a place defined by optimism and invention, possibility and pride.
In which Joe brunches with a pioneering chef and takes in the canal view from a forested hilltop and a rooftop bar
The first thing that strikes you when you approach Panama City is the skyline. The towers are so densely clustered and slender and bright they look like a geological feature, an effusion of quartz rising from the earth.
I wake up in one of them: the Waldorf Astoria, a sharp-edged block erected in a recent frenzy of construction that is only now starting to abate. My room—done in beige and gold, glass and chrome—has a kind of glow to it. I open the curtains and, beyond the palisade of high-rises, get my first glimpse of the tankers, dozens of them, sitting low in the sea, headed southwest toward the Panama Canal.
Panama City, I've been told, is a “three-shower-a-day kind of place," and I soon discover why. I exit the Waldorf and receive the full brunt of the city's equatorial heat. So, my first order of business is to get myself a straw hat. I stroll along nearby Cinta Costera—a manicured path that snakes along the edge of the bay—toward Victor's Panama Hats. This is not a terribly pedestrian-friendly city—sidewalks are scarce and the driving erratic—so Cinta Costera is a popular spot. Joggers jog, families relax, vendors vend, travel writers pour sweat.
I duck back into the Waldorf, exchange knowing looks with the doorman, change into shorts, and smuggle out a washcloth for brow-mopping duty, as I don't think the hat will be sufficient. I am about to meet a prominent Panamanian, after all, and I want to look at least halfway presentable.
Panama City's towers seen from Cerro Ancón
Elena Hernández is the founder of the Panamá Gastronómica food festival. We meet at the Nina Concept Store, a trendy design shop, gallery, and café owned by her brother Manuel. While we try the brunch offerings—corn arepas with tuna and cilantro mayonnaise, eggs Benedict with salmon on brioche (baked by Hernández), pancakes, and local fruit—she tells me her story.
She was born in New York City and moved here when she was around 4 years old. After dropping out of law school, she attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. “When I came back, there were only maybe five chefs in Panama," she says. “I was, like, the second woman." Cooking was seen as a low profession in a place where parents wanted their kids to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers, and most favored European- and American-style food.
After working in several restaurants, Hernández opened Panama's first private cooking school. Then she created Panamá Gastronómica five years ago to promote the work of the country's new wave of chefs. “I think we helped make people proud of Panamanian cuisine," she says, taking a bite of bacon that came from a butcher down the street. “Nobody studied cooking before. Now everyone wants to."
Elena Hernández, founder, Panamá Gastronómica
I leave with a list of Hernández's favorite eateries but decide to burn off a few calories before cramming myself with more. A short drive across town is Cerro Ancón, the famous wooded hill that rises 650 feet above the city and is topped with a giant Panamanian flag. As I trudge upward, damply greeting fellow hikers, the noise of the city recedes. Aguotis—small creatures that resemble miniature tapirs—bound across my path. Hawks wheel above. The walk takes about 20 minutes, and the views from the summit are astounding: the great canal on one side, the emphatic sprawl of the city on the other.
Later, having stopped by the Waldorf for, yes, a shower, I take a car northeast to the San Francisco district. Dinner is at Maito, run by trailblazing chef Mario Castrellón. In a room that resembles a Japanese teahouse filtered through a Latin American lens, a procession of wildly imaginative food commences: tuna tartare and spicy guacamole served on a crispy plantain chip; baby squid with achiote and pork rinds; lamb bacon tacos with tzatziki; mackerel tempura with sweet-and-sour sauce. Chef Mario comes out to say hello. He's funny, shaggy, and animated. I ask him what inspired him to devise this menu. “Panama," he replies. “It's what I think of when I think of Panama."“In Panama, we're not famous for our traditional food. A lot of cultures have merged here: American, French, Jewish, Chinese, Arab, Spanish. We have always been the result of many cultures blending. Our food is the same." —Elena Hernández
It's late, but I have the driver stop at the Ocean Sun Casino, where I take the elevator up to Panaviera, with its thrumming outdoor rooftop bar on the 66th floor. I grab a stool by the railing, order a local 507 beer, and get down to the business of pondering the town. The way the city lights extend before yielding to the darkness of the interior. The way the still tankers twinkle in the black water, waiting for the opening of the canal. The way … oh, I just remembered: I have to get up at 6 a.m. tomorrow.
I call it a night.
In which Joe swings through a rainforest canopy and explores the streets of revitalized Casco Viejo
“How do you know about this? Panamanians don't even know about this!" I'm visiting Yarabi Vega, an employee at the Parque Natural Metropolitano, which is a jungle. Not the way New York's Central Park was a jungle in the 1970s, but an actual jungle, a former U.S. military base that returned to Panamanian control, was inaugurated as a park in 1988, and has since reverted to a lush state of nature.
The well-kept secret Vega is referring to is the canopy crane. If you work it out with the park in advance, you can go 150 feet up in a machine that ecologists use to study the rainforest canopy. Vega leads me down a dirt path, amid the urgent cries of hidden titi monkeys, past abandoned military installations, until we arrive at the crane and meet the operator, Edwin. I mention that I want to see a sloth. Edwin nods. It's a reasonable request. Then he says, “I have to go to my office!" and climbs a ladder to a cabin at the top of the crane. We on the ground strap on our harnesses, step into a metal cage, and lurch upward toward the canopy.
The canopy crane at the Parque
Soon we're dangling over the rainforest, taking in the view—the jungle, the city in its morning haze, the sea beyond. Suddenly, disconcertingly, we swing left, drop back down into the trees, and come to a halt. Two feet in front of us: a sleeping three-toed sloth.
“Can you wake him up?" I ask Vega.
“Maybe if you make the sound of an eagle."
Screaming at the thing seems mean, so I tap the cage and whistle. The sloth very slowly turns to face us. He blinks. He stares. Then he nods off again. It's thrilling.
I notice Vega is wearing a small carved sloth on her necklace.
“Are you a sloth fan?" I ask.
“Yes," she says. “I used to race them."
“You raced them?"
“In my apartment."
“You raced sloths in your apartment?"
“Yes," she says, as if it's the most normal thing in the world. She then explains that the park is also a rehab facility. They had found two baby sloths, and there was nowhere to put them, so Vega took them home to care for them.
“Oh! You raised them."
We return to earth, and after parting with Vega, I head for Casco Viejo—the old town—to check into the American Trade Hotel. In the bad old days, this building was occupied by gangs, who nicknamed it “Castle Grayskull," à la He-Man. Today it's an impeccably tasteful colonial-style boutique, launched by the people behind the Ace Hotel chain. My room is a sunny top-floor junior suite with an excellent shower that has its own eye-level window, allowing me to look over the rooftops of Casco as I scrub. I notice a small towel with “makeup" embroidered on it and sequester it for brow-mopping duty.
One of Parque Natural Metropolitano's slothful residents
Elena Hernández told me to check out Café Unido, a small local chain co-owned by Mario Castrellón that seeks to reintroduce Panamanians to the glory of their home-grown coffee. Luckily, there's one at the hotel. I get a chocolate croissant and a cup of Geisha coffee. Geisha is one of the most sought-after beans on the planet, and it grows in Panama. Costing $7 a cup, it's brewed one cup at a time using the pour-over method, and it is remarkable—deep and smooth, with a lemony hint that yields to smokiness. It's worthy of its reputation.
I take mine black and to-go and head out into the narrow streets of Casco Viejo. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the area has had its ups and downs. Right now, it's on the up. Scores of old buildings are being renovated; restaurants and bars are appearing. I stroll through Plaza de la Catedral, with its 18th-century Spanish colonial Catedral Metropolitana, past the vendors selling hats and crafts. I'm heading for the Ramparts, the defenses that once protected the colonial city from seaborne invasion. The walkway along the top of the walls has been converted into a lovely shaded space under a canopy of flowers. I plop down on a bench and watch the ships.
Continuing my stroll, I stop at Papilo y Yo, a little shop owned by Zaira Lombardo. She and her staff specialize in creating stylish designs using traditional Panamanian techniques and materials: hats and bags, jewelry, housewares. For now, her buyers are mostly foreign. “It's difficult to sell to Panamanians," she says. “They're like people in Miami. They like brands. But little by little they're learning to appreciate things from here." I tell her I keep hearing that, and she nods. “There is a wave of people like me."
I'm off to meet another cultural pioneer: Pituka Ortega Heilbron, director of the four-year-old Panama International Film Festival. She's suggested we have lunch at Boulevard Balboa, a 1950s-era diner on the waterfront. It's full of people from all walks of life: politicians, businesspeople, musicians. “Look around, and you'll see the heart," she says. “This is Panama right here." Her father was a politician and later a newspaper columnist, and he used to come here to take in the gossip. “They sat all morning drinking coffee and just talking." According to Ortega Heilbron, the malted shakes here are the best in Panama, so I order a coffee malt, plus a tortilla sandwich with pepperoni and mozzarella. “Good choice," she says. “Really Panamanian. That will last you till tonight."
Pituka Ortega Heilbron, director, Panama International Film Festival
When she started in film, Panama didn't have much interest in the form, but now the scene is starting to bloom. That has a lot to do with the festival, which has grown into an internationally renowned event. “What was fascinating in the first year is that people saw these films in Spanish, and they couldn't believe the quality," she says. “They discovered something about themselves."
I spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around Casco Viejo, listening, looking, using the makeup towel. I stop to get a juice at one of the shaded tables on Plaza Bolívar. A little later, in need of more substantial refreshment, I duck into the American Trade's cool, bright lobby bar for a Canal Jumper—white rum, Bushmills, falernum, lime, and orange, served with a lit cinnamon stick, glowing red like a cigar. I enjoy it in a wicker rocking chair by the window, watching the light fade over the streetscape outside.“One of the things that make me love Panama is that our national shield says 'Pro Mundi Beneficio,' which means, 'For the good of the world.' We don't always realize it, but that's what we are. I want the Panama International Film Festival to be a platform for this." —Pituka Ortega Heilbron
Dinner is across town at Intimo, a cozy new restaurant (if you can find it; there's no sign) that feels more Northern California than Panama, with a rustic-chic vibe, open kitchen, hirsute staff, and a formidable tasting menu that draws upon local ingredients, including some grown in the backyard. Chef Carlos Alba comes over to chat. He started out studying to be an industrial engineer, but, inspired by Mario Castrellón, switched to cooking. The decision horrified his parents, but it paid off. “Mario was one of the reasons it became OK to be a chef," he says. They worked together for several years, and then Carlos opened Intimo.
I have a coconut water martini to start things off. Then comes the deluge: food, cocktails, wine, beer, cider. Among the imaginative dishes I try are the tamarind-glazed beans, which taste like ribs; dumplings stuffed with root vegetables; rabbit over a sweet corn puree with crunchy corn; mushrooms with creamy sweet potato, fennel confit, and fried kale; shredded lamb neck with carrots and tiny white flowers; and, finally, a dessert of pineapple yogurt “buried under chocolate dirt," served in a teacup.
For a nightcap, I head to Tántalo, a boutique hotel and restaurant that's popular with the trendy Casco set. The rooftop bar here looks out over the neighborhood jumble. Bare bulbs are strung overhead. People are dancing. The air is cool. The music is classic hip-hop. Someone's getting a tattoo in a chair in the corner. Everyone's friendly, having a great time. And then it hits me: Oh God, I have to get up at 6 a.m. again tomorrow.
But then something else hits me: Eh, maybe just one more.
In which Joe sails through the canal, gets a crash course in biodiversity, and hits a jazzy nightclub
On a boat operated by Canal & Bay Tours, with another Geisha coffee in hand (and potential solvency issues if this habit keeps up), I move toward the country's most famous feature, along the way counting the tankers awaiting entry to the canal. More than 50 are levitating in the morning haze. Most wait a day or a day and a half to get in. On average, ships pay $85,000 to pass, with the highest fee being nearly a half million, usually for cruise ships. The lowest fee was for an American named Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1928. He paid 36 cents.
We pass under the Bridge of the Americas—completed in 1962 to rejoin the continents severed by the manmade waterway—and our guide tells us the canal's history. How the French attempted to build one, and it ended in mass death and disgrace. How the Americans pulled it off, not by digging a trench the whole way but by flooding the land and then installing locks at points too elevated to flood. That way they had to dig only 10 miles, instead of 50.
We arrive at the Miraflores Locks, trailing a tanker from Delaware. The 700-ton gates (made in Pittsburgh) shut behind us, and we wait as workers secure the boat to the 50-foot-thick concrete wall. I feel the surge of 26 million gallons of water in my stomach. The lock takes eight minutes to fill. Then we're through. The big ship ahead of us is tethered to two silver locomotives, called mules, which keep it centered as it moves through the narrow locks. Some of the largest vessels—called Panamax—pass with less than a foot on either side.
We navigate the renowned Culebra Cut, the stretch of the canal that was actually excavated. The scenery is somber, craggy, lovely. A light rain falls. We pass a small, fenced-in white building on the canal edge: It's where former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega is being held awaiting trial, after stints in American and French jails, on an array of charges.
A cargo ship passes through the Panama Canal;
Our final stop is Gamboa, about three quarters of the way up the canal, where a bus takes us back to the city, dropping us off near the Amador Causeway, a pretty strip of land that serves as a breakwater and a recreation area. I stroll the length of it and arrive at the Biomuseo, the biodiversity museum that opened in 2014. A tumble of primary colors designed by Frank Gehry (his first work in Latin America), it looks like something Picasso might have made if asked to build an exotic bird out of kids' building blocks. It also contains a series of interesting exhibits that walk you through the formation of the isthmus, between 40 million and 80 million years ago, and the subsequent migration of creatures from north to south and south to north—including charming “tiny camels" and less charming “terror birds."
Back in Casco Viejo, I stop at the Diablo Rosso gallery, which architect and co-owner Johann Wolfschoon tells me was founded partly to address a scarcity of venues for local artists. It has sold pieces to the Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim in New York. “We show things we believe in," Wolfschoon says. “Things that could be good for culture."
After a shower and an invigorating pale ale at La Rana Dorada, a pioneer in the burgeoning local craft beer scene, it's time for dinner a few blocks away. If I can find the restaurant. Again, there's no sign. A man sitting on a traffic barrier points me to the right place, but when I get there all the doors are shut. Having watched me walk around the building, twice, the man comes over and bangs on the door. It opens. He smiles. This must happen constantly.
A banjo player on the ramparts of Casco Viejo
Now in its third year, Donde José is the work of celebrated chef José Carles, and like so many people I've met here, he wants to help carve out a new Panamanian identity. The place is tiny, like a well-appointed bunker—concrete, wood, metal, red velvet. I sit at the bar with a couple of recent transplants from Jamaica, and Carles comes out to walk us through his tasting menu. “We don't serve plates here," he says. “We tell stories." He's a physical man, and he expects that physicality to extend to his food. “You're going to use your hands a lot," he says. “Only fork and knife if it's necessary."
The meal is technically accomplished and deeply felt. Steamed dumplings stuffed with spicy corn tortilla; sea snails and cashews in a squash and clam broth; a salad with mango sorbet dressing and grated dried beef; a riff on chicken and rice in which fried chicken bits (breast, thigh, heart, and liver) are paired with rice cooked in chicken fat, making it obscenely rich. Finally, there's an apple pie, inspired by the ones served at McDonald's and made with the local root vegetable chayote (apples don't grow in Panama). “We're a young country," Carles says when I congratulate him on his culinary performance. “Who says we have to keep eating the same food forever?"
I ply the crowded streets and enter the hotel, tired and overfed, and hear music coming from Danilo's, the club opened here by legendary Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez. I grab a table and order a beer. Leading a hard-driving quartet, singer Idania Dowman tears through jazz standards, soul classics, Latin fare. She struts, flirts, and tells blue jokes. After “Midnight Train to Georgia" and “Guantanamera," she does a colossal rendition of “My Way" that has the crowd howling along.
“I feel so diva!" she cries.
“You are!" someone shouts back.
“We are!" she replies, and it only gets louder, and happier, and later. And later still.
JoeKeohane, a New York–based writer and former editor of Hemispheres, is lobbying for sloth racing to become an Olympic sport.
Around the web
When the pandemic began, United Cargo knew it would be critical to utilize its fleet, network and industry-leading pharmaceutical handling processes to transport a COVID-19 vaccine when the time came.
Connecting vaccines to the world: United responds to mass distribution effort
On November 27, United Airlines became the first commercial airline to safely deliver the first batch of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine into the U.S. thanks to a coordinated effort between United's cargo, safety, technical operations, flight operations, regulatory and legal teams.
Now as the entire shipping and logistics industry bands together to widely distribute vaccines, United is leveraging all of its flights, including cargo-only and those carrying passengers, to transport millions of vaccines to destinations throughout our network, including Honolulu, Guam and Saipan – the first of any carrier to do so.
"United's cargo service has helped safely deliver many essential goods during this pandemic, but there is no shipment that gives me more personal pride than helping bring this life-saving vaccine to our communities," said Jan Krems, United Cargo President. "While we still face a long road ahead the promise of a widely distributed vaccine gives us hope that we are one step closer to putting this pandemic behind us and moving forward together toward a brighter future."
And United is shipping more than just vaccines to help during the pandemic in keeping the lines of commerce flowing and goods getting to where they need to be. Since mid-March, United has operated 9,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 435 million pounds of cargo. By using a combination of cargo-only flights and passenger flights, United Cargo has also transported 80 million pounds of medical supplies this year.
In coordination with our shipping and logistics partners, United will continue to distribute COVID-19 treatments to destinations throughout its network. The real heroes are the scientists who created these life-saving vaccines and the frontline workers who are not only administering them, but also helping care for and tend to those suffering from this virus. United is proud to do its part in helping to get this precious cargo to the people and communities who need them, and looks forward to doing our part in the months ahead.
United Cargo responds to COVID-19 challenges, prepares for what's next
September 30, 2020
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, United Cargo has supported a variety of customers within the healthcare industry for over 10 years. Three key solutions – TempControl, LifeGuard and QuickPak – protect the integrity of vital shipments such as precision medicine, pharmaceuticals, biologics, medical equipment and vaccines. By utilizing processes like temperature monitoring, thermodynamic management, and priority boarding and handling, United Cargo gives customers the peace of mind that their shipments will be protected throughout their journey.
With the global demand for tailored pharmaceutical solutions at an all-time high, we've made investments to help ensure we provide the most reliable air cargo options for cold chain shipping. In April this year, we became the first U.S. carrier to lease temperature-controlled shipping containers manufactured by DoKaSch Temperature Solutions. We continue to partner with state-of-the-art container providers to ensure we have options that meet our customers' ever-changing needs.
"Providing safe air cargo transport for essential shipments has been a top priority since the pandemic began. While the entire air cargo industry has had its challenges, I'm proud of how United Cargo has adapted and thrived despite a significant reduction in network capacity and supply," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "We remain committed to helping our customers make it through the pandemic, as well as to doing everything we can to be prepared for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution when the time comes."
Our entire team continues to prioritize moving critical shipments as part of our commitment to supporting the global supply chain. We've assembled a COVID readiness task team to ensure we have the right people in place and are preparing our airports as we get ready for the industry-wide effort that comes next.
In cooperation with our partners all over the world, United Cargo has helped transport nearly 145 million pounds of medical supplies to aid in the fight against COVID-19, using a combination of cargo-only flights and passenger flights. To date, United Cargo has operated more than 6,300 cargo-only flights and has transported more than 213 million pounds of cargo worldwide.
United Cargo responds to global needs, celebrates 5000th cargo-only flight
August 18, 2020
By Jan Krems, President, United Cargo
In mid-March, United took steps to manage the historic impact of COVID-19 and began flying a portion of our Boeing 777 and 787 fleets as dedicated cargo-only flights to transport air freight to and from U.S. hubs and key international business locations. More than ever, providing reliable cargo transportation was vitally important and I'm proud say our United Cargo team stepped up to support our customers.
Although we're facing the most challenging environment our industry has ever experienced, I'm very excited to celebrate a major milestone. Since March 19, United has operated over 5,000 cargo-only flights transporting nearly 170 million pounds of cargo on these flights alone. With an increased need to keep the global supply chain moving, and an even more urgent need for medical supplies, we knew we had to utilize our network capabilities and personnel to move vital shipments, such as medical kits, personal protective equipment (PPE), pharmaceuticals and medical equipment between U.S. hubs and key international destinations.
In cooperation with freight forwarders and partners all over the world, United Cargo helped transport more than 107 million pounds of medical supplies to aid in the fight against COVID-19 using a combination of cargo-only flights as well as passenger flights.
To keep military families connected, we increased the frequency of cargo-only flights between the U.S. and military bases in various parts of the world — including bases located in Guam, Kwajalein and several countries in Europe. We know how critically important it is for these families to stay connected, and I'm honored that we were able to utilize our network and our aircraft to fly nearly 3 million pounds of military supplies.
In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), our cargo teams moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
United has played a critical role in keeping global supply chains stable during the pandemic as we deliver urgently needed goods around the world. These past few months have created challenges that I have never seen in my 30-plus years of experience working within the air cargo and freight forwarding industry. However, I'm proud of our teams for staying focused on our mission to provide high-quality service and to keep our customers connected with the goods they need most.
United Cargo and logistics partners keep critical medical shipments moving
July 02, 2020
By working together and strengthening partnerships during these unprecedented times, our global community has overcome challenges and created solutions to keep the global supply chain moving. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the shipping landscape, United and our industry partners have increasingly demonstrated our commitment to the mission of delivering critical medical supplies across the world.
United Cargo has partnered with DSV Air and Sea, a leading global logistics company, to transport important pharmaceutical materials to places all over the world. One of the items most critical during the current crisis is blood plasma.
Plasma is a fragile product that requires very careful handling. Frozen blood plasma must be kept at a very low, stable temperature of negative 20 degrees Celsius or less – no easy task considering it must be transported between trucks, warehouses and airplanes, all while moving through the climates of different countries. Fortunately, along with our well-developed operational procedures and oversight, temperature-controlled shipping containers from partners like va-Q-tec can help protect these sensitive blood plasma shipments from temperature changes.
A single TWINx shipping container from va-Q-tec can accommodate over 1,750 pounds of temperature-sensitive cargo. Every week, DSV delivers 20 TWINx containers, each one filled to capacity with human blood plasma, for loading onto a Boeing 787-9 for transport. The joint effort to move thousands of pounds of blood plasma demonstrates that despite the distance, challenges in moving temperature-sensitive cargo and COVID-19 obstacles, we continue to find creative solutions with the help of our strong partnerships.
United Cargo is proud to keep the commercial air bridges open between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Since March 19, we have operated over 3,200 cargo-only flights between six U.S. hubs and over 20 cities in Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, India, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
United further expands cargo-only operations to key international markets
June 9, 2020
United has played a vital role in helping keep the global supply chains stable during the COVID-19 pandemic so urgently needed goods can get to the places that need them most.
In addition to current service from the U.S. to Asia, Australia, Europe, India, Latin America and the Middle East, we are proud to now offer cargo-only flights to key international markets including Dublin, Paris, Rome, Santiago and Zurich. These new routes will connect our freight customers and further extend our air cargo network throughout the world – for example connecting major pharmaceutical hubs in Europe and perishable markets in Latin America.
"Air cargo continues to be more important than ever," says United Cargo President Jan Krems. "This network expansion helps our customers continue to facilitate trade and contribute to global economic development and recovery. I'm proud of our team for mobilizing our cargo-only flights program that enables the shipment of critical goods that will support global economies."
Since we began our program March 19, we have completed more than 2,400 cargo-only flights, transporting over 77 million pounds of cargo. We have over 1,100 cargo-only flights scheduled for the month of June, operating between six U.S. hubs and over 20 cities all over the world.
United's first flight carrying cargo in-cabin takes off
May 13, 2020
United continues to keep supply chains moving and to meet the demand for critical shipments around the globe. Recently, United received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry cargo in approved storage areas in the passenger cabin.
Our inaugural cargo-in-cabin flight flew from London (LHR) to Chicago (ORD) carrying over 4,200 pounds of mail in the passenger cabin, plus a full payload of freight in the belly of the aircraft. Initially, cargo-in-cabin shipments will be loaded on the 777 and 787 aircraft operating our cargo-only flights. We will continue to evaluate additional opportunities to use this space to meet the growing cargo demand.
"We send our sincere thanks to the FAA for working with our team to enable the transport of more critical goods on United's cargo-only flights," said Jan Krems, President of United Cargo. "By loading existing cabin storage areas with cargo and mail, we can move even more critical medical equipment, PPE, and other vital shipments the world needs to manage through the pandemic."
United's cargo-only network continues to expand in order to help bring vital shipments to the people that need it most. We're now offering service between six of our U.S. hubs and 18 airports worldwide: CTU, HKG, ICN, MEL, PEK, PVG, SIN, SYD and TPE in the Asia-Pacific; AMS, BOM, BRU, DUB, FRA, LHR, TLV and ZRH in EMEIA; and SJU in the Caribbean.
Since the start of its cargo-only flights program March 19, United has operated over 1,300 cargo-only flights transporting over 44 million pounds of cargo.
For more information, visit unitedcargo.com.
United expands cargo-only flights to additional global destinations
April 16, 2020
Getting vital goods, especially medical relief supplies, into the hands of the businesses and people who need them has never been more critically important. To meet the overwhelming demand, United began operating cargo-only flights on March 19. Since we began using Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft from United's passenger fleet for this purpose, we have operated over 400 flights carrying more than 6 million kilos of cargo.
"With the global community in need, we are doing everything we can to keep supply chains moving worldwide and support the battle against COVID-19," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "We're proud to play an active role in connecting vital medical supplies like test kits and personal protective equipment with healthcare professionals around the world."
We are now operating more than 150 cargo-only flights per week between six of our U.S. hubs and 13 cities worldwide: CTU, HKG, PEK, PVG, SYD and TPE in the Asia Pacific; AMS, BRU, DUB, FRA and LHR in Europe; SJU in the Caribbean and TLV in the Middle East. We expect to add new cities soon and will continue to expand our cargo-only flights program.
|Hub||Cargo-only flights operating through May|
ORD - AMS (Amsterdam)
ORD - FRA (Frankfurt)
ORD - HKG (Hong Kong)
ORD - LHR (London)
ORD - NRT (Tokyo Narita) - PEK (Beijing)
IAH - AMS (Amsterdam)
IAD - FRA (Frankfurt)
|Los Angeles (LAX)||
LAX - HKG (Hong Kong)
LAX - LHR (London Heathrow)
LAX - NRT (Tokyo Narita) - PVG (Shanghai)
LAX - SYD (Sydney)
|New York/Newark (EWR)||
EWR - AMS (Amsterdam)
EWR - FRA (Frankfurt)
EWR - LHR (London)
|San Francisco (SFO)||
SFO - AMS (Amsterdam)
SFO - NRT (Tokyo Narita) - PEK (Beijing)
SFO - NRT (Tokyo Narita) - PVG (Shanghai)
SFO - NRT (Tokyo Narita) - TPE (Taipei)
SFO - TLV (Tel Aviv)
SFO - SYD (Sydney)
|Washington, D.C. (IAD)||
IAD - BRU (Brussels)
IAD - DUB (Dublin)
IAD - FRA (Frankfurt)
IAD - NRT (Tokyo Narita) - PEK (Beijing)
IAD - SJU (San Juan)
Flight details are subject to change, for the most up-to-date schedules, please visit https://ual.unitedcargo.com/covid-updates.
Cargo-only flights support U.S. military and their families
March 30, 2020
We are helping to keep military families connected by increasing the frequency of cargo-only flights between the United States and military bases in various parts of the world — including Guam, Kwajalein, and several countries in Europe. Last week we began operating a minimum of 40 cargo-only flights weekly — using Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft to fly freight and mail to and from U.S. hubs and key international business and military locations.
We are going above and beyond to find creative ways to transport fresh food and produce, as well as basic essentials from the U.S. mainland to military and their families in Guam/Micronesia. On Saturday, March 28, we operated an exclusive cargo-only B777-300 charter to transport nearly 100,000 pounds of food essentials to Guam to support our troops.
In addition, we move mail year-round all over the world. In response to COVID-19, and in support of the military members and their families overseas, we implemented a charter network, transporting military mail to Frankfurt, which is then transported all over Europe and the Middle East. Since March 20, we have flown 30,000+ pounds of military mail every day between Chicago O'Hare (ORD) and Frankfurt (FRA). On the return flight from Frankfurt to Chicago, we have carried an average of 35,000 pounds of mail to help families stay connected.
"Keeping our military families connected with the goods they need, and keeping them connected with loved ones to feel a sense of home, is of critical importance. As a company that has long supported our military families and veterans, our teams are proud to mobilize to lend a hand." — United Cargo President Jan Krems.
Our cargo-only flights support customers, keep planes moving
March 22, 2020
We have begun flying a portion of our Boeing 777 and 787 fleet as dedicated cargo charter aircraft to transfer freight to and from U.S. hubs and key international business locations. The first of these freight-only flights departed on March 19 from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt International Airport (FRA) with the cargo hold completely full, with more than 29,000 lbs. of goods.
Getting critical goods into the hands of the businesses and people who need them most is extremely important right now. To support customers, employees and the global economy, we will initially operate a schedule of 40 cargo charters each week targeting international destinations and will continue to seek additional opportunities.
With coronavirus (COVID-19) creating an increased need to keep the global supply chain moving, we are utilizing our network capabilities and personnel to get vital shipments, such as medical supplies, to areas that need them most.
"Connecting products to people around the world is the United Cargo mission," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "That role has never been more crucial than during the current crisis. Our team is working around the clock to provide innovative solutions for our customers and support the global community."
On average, we ship more than 1 billion pounds of cargo every year on behalf of domestic and international customers. For more information, visit unitedcargo.com.
CHICAGO, Dec. 1, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- United is inviting MileagePlus members to give back on Giving Tuesday and throughout the holiday season by donating miles to nearly 40 non-profits through United Airlines' crowdsourcing platform, Miles on a Mission. Non-profits like Thurgood Marshall College Fund, College to Congress and Compass to Care are attempting to raise a total of more than 11 million miles to be used for travel for life-saving health care, continued education, humanitarian aid and more. United will match the first 125,000 miles raised for each of these organizations to help ensure they meet their goals.
"This year has posed unprecedented challenges for us all and has been especially devastating to some of the most vulnerable members within the communities we serve," said Suzi Cabo, managing director of global community engagement, United Airlines. "The need for charitable giving has not stopped during the pandemic, and neither has United. This Giving Tuesday marks an opportunity for us to all come together for the greater good and we are proud to provide a platform to support organizations with upcoming travel needs that will enable them to continue supporting the communities they serve."
The launch of these campaigns is part of United's ongoing Miles on a Mission program, which began in October 2019 and has raised more than 92 million miles to-date. Past campaigns have helped organizations travel children for life-saving medical treatment and unite parents with newly adopted children from foreign countries. Participating non-profits have 28-days to reach their mile raising goals through the platform.
The organizations that are raising miles in this campaign include:
- College to Congress: The organization provides support including travel for disadvantaged college students who otherwise could not afford to intern in Washington, D.C.
- Thurgood Marshall College Fund: This is the only national organization representing America's 47 publicly-supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and the nearly 300,000 students that attend them each year. The miles raised will cover the travel expenses to and from campus for students unable to afford them.
- My Block, My Hood, My City: This organization provides underprivileged youth with an awareness of the world and opportunities beyond their neighborhood. Miles will be used to fund educational trips for Chicago youths to help them gain a greater understanding of the world outside of their comfort zones.
- Compass to Care: The non-profit ensures all children, whose parents have a financial need, can access life-saving cancer treatment. Compass to Care is raising miles to fund travel to get children from their homes to hospitals for cancer treatment.
- Luke's Wings: This organization is dedicated to the support of service members who have been wounded in battle. Raised miles will be used to purchase plane tickets for families to visit wounded soldiers recovering in Army medical centers.
- Rainbow Railroad USA: The organization's mission is to help persecuted LGBTQI+ individuals around the world travel to safety as they seek a haven from persecution. Miles will support the organization's core Emergency Travel Support program.
This year, United's legal partner Kirkland & Ellis will also be donating $50,000 to My Block, My Hood, My City and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Other organizations launching campaigns on the platform include: Sisters of the Skies, Inc., Up2Us Sports, Airline Ambassadors International, Austin Smiles, AWS Foundation, Crazy Horse Memorial, FLYTE, Higher Orbits, Lily's Hope Foundation, Miles4Migrants, Support Utila Inc. and Watts of Love. MileagePlus members can also donate to United's 20 other existing partner charities including, Airlink, American Red Cross, Make-A-Wish, Shriners Hospitals; Clean the World, Special Olympics and more. To learn more or donate to these organizations, please visit donate.mileageplus.com.
Visit www.united.com/everyactioncounts to learn more about our pledge to put our people and planes to work for the greater good.
United's shared purpose is "Connecting People. Uniting the World." For more information, visit united.com, follow @United on Twitter and Instagram or connect on Facebook. The common stock of United's parent, United Airlines Holdings, Inc., is traded on the Nasdaq under the symbol "UAL".
SOURCE United Airlines
For further information: United Airlines Worldwide Media Relations, +1-872-825-8640, firstname.lastname@example.org
In October 2019, we launched a first-of-its-kind airline miles donation platform, Miles on a Mission. In the inaugural year, MileagePlus members donated over 70 million miles, with United matching over 20 million miles, to 51 organizations. These miles have allowed for these organizations to do important, life-changing, life-saving work in the communities we serve around the globe.
Whether it's visiting friends and relatives, traveling for work or simply exploring a new corner of the world, we all have a reason as to why we fly. No matter the reason you fly, the miles you earn and donate help our Miles on a Mission partners soar. Take a look at how some of our partner organizations have put our MileagePlus Members' donations to work.
"To deliver life-saving cells and hope to Be the Match patients, like me!"
"These donated miles will support Born This Way Foundation's mission of supporting the wellness of LGBTQ+ youth — and all young people — by expanding access to mental health resources and promoting kindness."
"Combined Arms is uniting communities to accelerate the impact of veterans and their families."
"To help children get to life-saving cancer treatment"
"We fly to save. We fly to save lives, saving homeless veterans anywhere, any time."
"Gift of Adoption flies to unite children with their families — giving them a chance to thrive!"
"Holocaust Museum Houston flies United to educate people about the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy. Holocaust Museum Houston flies United to connect teachers with Holocaust and human rights educational resources."
"We fly today so those living with ALS can have a better tomorrow."
"At Lazarex we fly patients with cancer to clinical trials for hope and a chance at life!"
"Donate your miles to help refugees reach safe homes for the holidays."
"To get vital relief and recovery aid where it's needed most!"
"We fly to educate and empower girls in Peru."
"To collaborate with partners & promote that #FoodIsMedicine"
"United helps our medical teams deliver hope and support when people need it most!"
"We fly to bring hope to 2 million people around the globe facing food insecurity."
"To make waves to fight cancer."
"Because every LGBTQ young person deserves to be valued, respected and loved for who they are."
"My team needs me now more than ever. I will be there for them!"
"Watts of Love brings solar light and hope to those living in the darkness of poverty!"
"To bring access to clean water for everyone that needs it."
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Take your next video call from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude with United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Newly added to our collection is a background encouraging our employees and customers to vote. Our mission is to connect people and unite the world — and one of the most important ways to do that is to engage in the democratic process. No matter which party you support, we know our democracy will be stronger if you make your voice heard and vote.
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.
To use on Zoom:
- 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.
To use on Microsoft Teams:
- Start by downloading your favorite United image to your computer. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- C:\[insert your device user name here]\AppData\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads
- If you're using a Mac copy the images to this folder on your computer:
- /users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds/Uploads
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- Once you start a Teams meeting, click the "…" in the menu bar and select "Show background effects" and your image should be there
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This is why we fly.
20 UCSF Health workers, who voluntarily set aside their own lives to help save lives, are on their way to New York City.
We are humbled by your selfless sacrifice.
In celebration and appreciation of all first responders and essential workers. 👏🏻👏🏼👏🏽👏🏾👏🏿
This is the story of Jason and Shantel. You see, Jason and Shantel love each other very much. They also love traveling and they love the classic Adam Sandler film, The Wedding Singer.
It all began when Jason reached out to United's social media team, hoping for assistance with his upcoming plan to propose. Some phone calls and one borrowed guitar later, the stage was set for Jason. Put all that together, mix in some helpful United employees and, voila, you have a truly memorable marriage proposal. Congratulations to this fun-loving and happy couple, and here's to many more years of making beautiful music together.
A big thank you to Chicago-based flight attendants Donna W., Marie M., Karen J. and Mark K. for making this proposal come to life.