Charmed by Southern Africa - United Hub
Amazing destination

Charmed by Southern Africa

By The Hub team, July 19, 2019

Each week we 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 San Franciso Customer Service Representative, Leonida Esquieres

Two years of preparation for this adventure brought my family and close friends to southern Africa. Since this is the farthest destination we've ever planned, we decided to cover at least three neighboring countries — South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana — to save on travel. We weren't sure what to expect from these places, but surprisingly, it turned out to be the most amazing adventure. Our long journey from the U.S. (33 hours) brought us first to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. To get there, you could fly to many of United's European destinations and then take Star Alliance partner airlines to get to Africa. (Later this year you'll be able to fly nonstop from Newark to Cape Town)

Victoria Falls

Zimbabwe

Our first stop was the city of Victoria Falls, home to the famous, spectacular and most beautiful waterfall also called Victoria Falls. It is referred to as "The Smoke that Thunders" and is one of Earth's greatest spectacles, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world as well as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Made up of a series of gorges and falls, the size and power of this massive body of water is awe-inspiring. As we planned to witness the "lunar rainbow," which only happens during a full moon, we scheduled to go at that time. The lunar rainbow can be seen for three nights of each lunar cycle during the full moon. The moon bow is created by the mist of the falls as light from the moon is refracted by water particles, creating a rainbow effect. Although it is something extraordinary, I must say that it was more fun to see the falls at day time while getting drenched from the thick mist.

The next day's highlight was the much-anticipated Zambezi River sunset cruise. What could be better than an open bar sunset cruise while soaking up the beauty of Africa? As we drifted along the river we admired the splashes of color that the setting sun painted in the sky as well as watched the wildlife in the serenity of this place. At the end of the cruise we tasted unique cuisines such as impala meat, buffalo meat and worms (yes, worms) at Boma restaurant.

Botswana

A short and easy trip from Zimbabwe, Botswana makes for a great trip to this and a wonderful safari destination. It's an astonishing place and home to amazing wildlife. We did both a Thebe River boat safari and a mobile safari through Chobe National Park. The river safari was entertaining and is an authentic Botswanan experience. Chobe is famous for its large population of elephants and one of the best wildlife destinations in the world, which overwhelmed us as we tried to capture photos of all of the amazing animals in sight. The baby animals were so cute, glued close to their mothers or underneath them. What a sheer display of wildlife in their natural habitat. A herd of buffalos swimming across mini islands, sunbathing crocodiles, hippos in the bank, a herd of kudus under the trees, families of monkeys with babies hanging underneath mothers along our relaxing river cruise — we saw it all. The baby elephants were so adorable you'd want to take them home.

From Zimbabwe we flew on our Star Alliance partner South African Airways (SA) to Johannesburg, our point of entry into South Africa.

South Africa, the rainbow nation

I have put off South Africa for too long, to my regret now. Admittedly, I was worried by its reputation for crime and discouraged by the distance. But my experience proved otherwise — the people were very nice, it was peaceful everywhere we went and the scenery is so beautiful it makes the long distance worth it.

After a night's rest in Johannesburg, we headed to Cradle of Humankind, renowned as the birthplace of humanity. The Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind put the origins of humans into perspective and gave an intriguing look into our collective past. It is here that some of the most important fossils were found. The network of limestone caves and old mines at Sterkfontein today hold one of the most renowned paleontological sites in the world, made famous by a breakthrough in 1947 when an almost perfect adult skull nicknamed "Mrs. Ples" was found. The skull dates back 2 million years, providing valuable evidence for the origins of human evolution in Africa.

A monkey at Kruger National Park
A kudos at Kruger National Park

Our next stop was Kruger National Park for more wilderness sightings during a safari on a jeep. There, we witnessed a hyena family, leopards, lions, zebras, giraffes, kudus, buffalos, monkeys roaming on the streets stealing fruits or chasing us, and more elephants. What's more interesting is where we stayed for a couple of nights, called Hippo Hollow Country Estate, which offers cute chalet bungalows and a resident hippo roaming in the backyard. I swear it was near our chalet one night making loud noises.

On our third day we went to a place called God's Window on the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga, which is known as Paradise Country. God's Window is so called gets its name because of the panoramic view that it offers of the Lowveld, located more than 900 meters below with lush forest clad ravine. Despite the fog during our early morning visit, the incredible view was still marvelous and so enigmatic.

View overlooking Cape Town

By the time we reached our main destination of Cape Town, we were hooked. South Africa's beauty is incomparable with any other countries we've seen. We filled our five days here (not enough) climbing Table Mountain with an incredible sweeping view of the city. Flanked by Devil's Peak and Lion's Head, Table Mountain makes up the northern end of the Cape Fold Mountain range. Legend has it that the tablecloth of clouds that pours over the mountain when the southeaster blows is the result of a smoking contest between the devil and a retired sea captain, Jan van Hunks. Blessed with crisp blue skies, we rode in a cable car and enjoyed the spectacular view from the peak.

The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town is situated on the Atlantic shore and offers a breathtaking view of Table Mountain and the ocean, making it a relaxing place to chill. We took a ferry to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The legacy of apartheid is still very clearly visible and it was touching. Robben Island, the unique symbol of "the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice" with a rich 500-year-old multi-layered history, represents an important aspect of South Africa's history.

The colorful homes in Cape Town

Bo-Kaap is one of the most photographed places in Cape Town so we weren't going to miss it. This place was formerly called the Malay Quarter when the colorful houses called "huurhuisjes" were built and rented to slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and other African countries. It was told that while leased these houses were white and when that law was lifted — and they were allowed to buy the houses — they painted them bright colors as an expression of their freedom. They are indeed very attractive and unique.

Ready for some African wine? Western Cape is your spot. The Cape Winelands is a region of the Western Cape Province and is home to world-class vineyards of South Africa. We had a wonderful wine tasting experience with views of the mountains surrounding the vineyards. We also stopped at Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet offering stunning views of the sea, flora and fauna. It was a dream come true to reach the most south-western point of the African Continent. Along our way on each stop were smaller charming Victorian villages, which were adorable and gave us a different perspective on South Africa that you wouldn't feel anywhere else in the world. A visit to Seal Island and Boulders Beach, where you can spot African penguins, were an added bonus.

Finding splendid beauty and wilderness in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana changed our perspective. Southern Africa offers dramatic mountain ranges, golden coast lines, wildlife, vibrant cities and centuries of history. It's amazing and worth traveling 30-plus hours to. I'm really looking forward to our Cape Town service starting in December.

Why we fly

By The Hub team, November 27, 2020

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.

United cargo connects products to people all over the world this holiday season

By The Hub team, November 23, 2020

Critical medical shipments – Check.

High-tech electronics – Check.

2.7 million pounds of lobster? Check.


While this year's holiday gatherings will look a little different, millions of people around the world will still carry on the tradition of celebrating the holidays with a meal.

As the appetite for different types of food from all over the world increases, so does the need for safe and reliable transport. Fish caught in the United Kingdom can depart at breakfast and arrive in Washington D.C. in time for dinner. Thanks to United Cargo's expansive network, we are longer constrained by global distance or the seasonality of a product,

United Cargo plays a big role in transporting shipments with a limited shelf life around the world. Packed in between the latest electronics from Asia and the hottest fashion items from Europe, our aircraft carry a variety of perishable shipments like flowers, fruit, meat and vegetables, where speed and careful handling keeps them fresh. Whether it's cherries from Washington State or vegetables from Peru, our temperature-controlled shipping processes and vast global network helps move these commodities all over the world.

While the holidays are an exceptionally busy time of year for shipping perishable items, United Cargo transports these critical goods for people all over the world year-round. Earlier this year, United Cargo moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program to support communities impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, with the holiday season here, we anticipate the cargo holds of our aircraft to be full of grocery store replenishments, including staples like turkey and ham, hitting shelves across the globe.

We take pride in our role to make sure perishables and produce arrive on time and at the peak of freshness. These products sustain, feed and nurture the world, and consumers around the globe depend on them every single day.

Since March 19, United has operated nearly 8,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 272 million pounds of cargo on those flights alone. United Cargo is proud of the role we play maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access commodities from all over the globe.

Bon appetit!

10 travel tips for the holiday season

By The Hub team, November 19, 2020

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your holiday travels, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, payments and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check and touch-free onboard payments.

2. Read and sign the Ready-to-Fly checklist

Before completing check-in, all United travelers will need to read our Ready-to-Fly checklist and confirm that they understand and agree to our policies. These include:

  • Acknowledging that you haven't had any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • Agreeing that you will not fly if you have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 21 days
  • Confirming that you will follow all policies regarding face coverings, social distancing and other health and safety measures we've adopted

3. Get familiar with CleanPlus

United CleanPlus℠ is our commitment to delivering industry-leading* cleanliness, plus putting health and safety at the forefront of your experience, in partnership with Clorox and Cleveland Clinic. We've implemented CleanPlus in a number of ways that you'll notice throughout your trip, as well as with some behind-the-scenes enhancements like:

  • Disinfecting high-touch areas on board and in the terminal
  • Using electrostatic spraying, Ultraviolet C lighting wands and more advanced measures to clean aircraft cabins before boarding
  • Redesigning our mobile app to allow for touchless check-in and contactless payment, along with enhanced travel assistance features

Studies show COVID-19 exposure risk is minimal when air filtration systems and masks are in use, so you can rest assured that the steps we've taken to keep you safe truly make a difference.

4. Don't forget essential documents

We've made a list of travel requirements and restrictions for every destination that you can check twice, or as often as you need before your trip. Just visit united.com/travelrequirements to get the details on COVID-19 testing, health documents and other things you may need before you fly.

5. Wear your mask

You may not notice our smile behind our face covering, but you can be sure that we're appreciative of all our travelers who arrive to the airport with their mask on, and continue to wear it over their nose and mouth at all times in the airport and on board. Make sure you review our requirements for face coverings, including what an acceptable face covering looks like. Bonus points if your mask infuses some holiday cheer!

6. A better boarding process for your safety

If you haven't flown with us in a while, you might want to get familiar with our new boarding process. To make boarding even safer, we now have travelers board their aircraft from back to front. At the gate, just listen for your row number to be called – we'll ask a few rows at a time to board, starting with the last row of the plane. This helps everyone maintain a safe distance from each other during boarding without slowing things down. As you step onto the plane, flight attendants will hand each passenger a sanitizing towelette, which you can use to wipe down your seat to ensure it's extra clean.

7. Pack smart

Before packing your bags, check to see what exactly you can carry on and what you should plan to check. You can also copy your confirmation number into our Baggage Calculator tool to learn about the bag allowance included with your reservation, as well as the cost of checking any additional bags.

8. Check your flight status, important notices and weather

Check the United app regularly for the latest updates, weather conditions, flight status, gate and seat assignments. You can also visit our Important Notices page to find essential information and updates about travel waivers, international travel, TSA and security, airports and United Club locations.

9. Arrive early; avoid the stress

Airports can be busy, especially during the holidays. The TSA advises arriving at the airport two hours before your flight for domestic travel and three hours for international travel in anticipation of long security lines. This can help ease the stress when navigating busy check-in areas, security lines and crowded boarding gates.

10. Relax and enjoy your flight

Once you're on board, it's time to sit back and enjoy your flight. Our flight attendants will be happy to help you with anything else you need.

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