Unforgettable First: Rhett Receives His Flight Certificate - United Hub

An unforgettable first: Rhett receives his flight certificate

By Matt Adams

Like most parents traveling with a baby for the first time, Kristin and Tyler Hildebrand felt a mix of excitement and nerves as they boarded the aircraft with their infant son, Rhett, during a recent family vacation to Cancun, Mexico. As they settled into their seats and made Rhett comfortable for his big adventure, Chicago-based Flight Attendant Paolo Vento stopped by to say hello.

In talking with Vento, the Hildebrands mentioned it was their first time flying together as a family. Hearing that, Paolo's eyes widened. To him, a first flight is as memorable an experience as a child's first step or first word (not to mention a badge of honor for anxious moms and dads) and deserves the same sort of celebration.

"I asked Kristin if she kept a scrapbook and she said yes, so I asked her if she'd like a first flight certificate for Rhett," he said. "She was so excited."

It's a practice that Vento began a few years ago after a family asked him to take their picture to commemorate their daughter's first trip. He asked the parents if they would like a certificate, and it grew from there. Since then, Vento estimates he's given out 40 or 50 of them, making each one at home and mailing them out on his own time and his own dime. The certificates are inscribed with the child's name, the flight's date, the origin and destination, and a short message that reads, in part, "Thank you for entrusting us with this milestone journey through the 'Friendly Skies.'"

"You only have one first flight, and it's nice to have these kinds of things to remember it with," said Vento. "What if that boy or girl grows up to become a pilot? Now they'll have a certificate to show the first time they were on an airplane. It goes back to doing these little acts that show we care."

Mrs. Hildreband took a photograph of Rhett with his certificate and posted it to Instagram, which drew oohs and aahs from other moms. She even sent Vento a nice note and shared it with his supervisor.

"Thank you so much for your kindness and thoughtfulness to take the time to do this. We will treasure this forever," she wrote. "Getting your package made my day. The world needs more people like you."

Things like this come naturally to Vento, who has brought plenty of smiles to the faces of customers over his 24 years at United thanks to his exceptional brand of service.

"If you feel like doing something nice for the customers, just do it, especially if it's authentic," he said. "It's something they'll never forget, and that's what they'll think about when they think of United."

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