From the Jungle to the Sky - United Hub

From the jungle to the sky

By Matt Adams, June 16, 2017

On June 15, we celebrated 25 years of service to Quito, Ecuador. During that time, our routes connecting Ecuador's capital city have played a vital role in the region, but, for Houston-based First Officer Tim Johnson, United's presence there carries even more significance.

United employee, Tim Johnson in Quito

Tim is probably one of only a few Ecuadorian Johnsons that you'll meet. Born and raised in the rural jungle town of Shell, five hours south of Quito, his parents were missionaries from the U.S. and Canada. It was a unique childhood, one that shaped a distinctive cultural identity within him and a deep appreciation for where he grew up.

"The country is so beautiful," Tim said. "You have the Costa Region (on the Pacific coast); the Sierra Region where the Andes Mountains are; the Oriente (Eastern) Region where the jungles lie; and the Islas Region, which includes the Galapagos Islands. As small as Ecuador is, it really has every kind of thing to offer."

In his youth, Tim filled his days by trekking across the countryside, fishing and swimming in the headwaters of the Amazon River (while keeping one eye open for piranhas) and taking in Ecuador's natural wonders.

United pilot, Tim Johnson as a kid in Quito.

He got his first taste of flying while living in Shell, when he worked out a sweet deal at a small airstrip near his house. "In sixth and seventh grade, I would make brake shoes and groove tires for the aircraft in exchange for Coca-Cola," he said. "I would go over there for about two hours every day, do my work, drink my Coke and go home. And sometimes the pilots would take me up with them."

After completing the eighth grade, Tim moved to Quito for high school, which is when the allure of flying really took hold. "Our campus was right next to the airport, so I would watch the planes flying over and think how cool it would be to do that."

College brought Tim to the U.S. to pursue an avionics degree, but it wasn't easy being away from the place he loved. "Though I knew I had the privilege of going to the U.S., and I appreciated it, my heart was in Ecuador. My first year away at college, I missed it so badly. But I had one goal: become a pilot so that I could fly there. I knew I had to stick it out."

Aerial view of Quito

A few years later he got his chance, going for a pilot position in Houston. "During my interview, they asked why I wanted to work there, and I told them, 'Because you fly to Quito.'" said Tim. "That's the whole reason I'm here."

He still flies to Quito regularly, stopping to visit old friends and see the sights. Though he lives in Houston with his wife Mindy (a United flight attendant) and their children, Tim's soul has never strayed from the place he calls home.

"Everyone at the base knows when I've just gotten back from a trip to Quito, because I'll be in the pilot's office with a big smile on my face," he said. "There are a lot of cool places in the world, but I just want to fly south."

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