Customer Danny Young embarks on a rock royalty tour on United
Last October, Danny Young, along with his friend and fellow musician Jack Moore, boarded a Los Angeles-bound United flight from London with a one-of-a-kind acoustic guitar in tow, kicking off the first leg of an epic rock and roll odyssey.
Over the next several weeks, they would crisscross the U.S. in pursuit of artists like Peter Frampton, Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes, Dhani Harrison (musician and son of the late Beatle George Harrison), Thin Lizzy's Ricky Warwick and Ozzy Osbourne, among others, asking each one to autograph the guitar. But this wasn't a case of two fans chasing down their idols for kicks. This trip had a much bigger meaning and an unbelievable backstory.
In a way, you could trace the start of it back to 2015. At that time, Danny was a 35-year-old first-time flyer nervously settling into his seat on board a United aircraft at London's Heathrow airport. Danny, a guitar virtuoso, was on his way to the United States, where he was scheduled to demo products for guitar accessory giant Seymour Duncan at an industry trade show. It was the kind of career opportunity that he'd been waiting for all his life. And he almost missed out on it.
Just before takeoff, his heart started to race and his palms began to sweat. The engine hum and the sound of chatter from his fellow passengers seemed to grow louder and louder until Danny found it all unbearable. Before he knew it, he was bolting toward the nearest exit.
"I ran up to a flight attendant and I told her, 'I need to get off, I can't be on here,'" Danny recalled. "I was completely beside myself with anxiety, and I just wanted to get to the door at that point."
It wasn't the first time he'd experienced an episode like that. Diagnosed as a young boy with autistic spectrum disorder, Danny struggles with severe anxiety in public places. Over the years, he's experienced more panic attacks than he cares to count, making many everyday tasks like going to the grocery store – or even maintaining employment – difficult.
After escorting him off the aircraft, a flight attendant sat and comforted him in the gate area while he called his partner, Jody, to pick him up. When Danny got home that evening, he felt defeated. "My son came up to me and said, 'Don't worry, Dad, I would have been just as scared,'" said Danny. "That's when I knew I had to get on that airplane, because I was setting a bad example for my son to not face his fears."
Danny returned to Heathrow the following day determined to get to L.A. When he approached his gate, to his surprise, United employees were standing by, ready to put his jitters to rest.
"They seemed to know what had happened the day before," he said, still somewhat in disbelief at the compassion they showed him. "They led me on board before the other passengers and the captain came over and talked me through everything. The flight attendants stopped by every few minutes and made sure that it was a comfortable experience for me. It completely took the anxiety away; I don't think I could have done it without them."
His first-ever flight went off without a hitch, with Danny growing more comfortable by the mile. By the time he arrived in L.A., the fear was gone. Since that day, he's been a dedicated United customer, which is why he approached our airline to help him get to the United States for his autograph quest last fall. And that brings us to the second part of the story.
Two years ago, Danny took possession of a guitar signed by actor-comedian Ricky Gervais. Gervais auctioned the instrument to raise money for the Story Book Farms Primate Sanctuary, and Danny, himself an animal rights proponent, jumped at the chance to support a worthy cause while bringing home a unique collector's item.
But after ponying up more than $6,000 for the winning bid, Danny was unsure of what to do with the guitar. He wasn't going to play it, and it didn't seem right to just hang it on his living room wall. Then his father had an idea: Why not try and get more signatures on it, then re-auction the guitar to raise even more money for the primate sanctuary?
Through some of his previous activism, Danny had been introduced to the Save Me Trust, a charity founded by legendary Queen guitarist Brian May to battle animal cruelty. With the help of mutual friends, Danny was able to get in touch with May who agreed to help, adding his autograph to the guitar alongside Gervais'. In return, Danny agreed to split the proceeds the guitar would earn at auction between the Save Me Trust and Story Book Farms.
Next, Danny recruited Jack Moore to join the project. Jack's father was the late Gary Moore, a renowned guitar player most famous for his work in Thin Lizzy. With Jack's connections in the music business and Danny's determination, they soon had a growing stable of musicians willing to sign, including the aforementioned list of rock luminaries, whom Danny and Jack visited in the United States.
Those signatures would be enough for most people, but Danny's not finished yet. He aims to see the project grow in an effort to maximize the funds he can raise, and hopes to auction the guitar again sometime in early 2018.
"I've got my sights set on Jeff Lynne," the co-founder of Electric Light Orchestra, Danny said, ticking off names of other artists he'd love to add before putting the guitar back up for auction. "I grew up a big Jeff Lynne fan. Another one would be Paul McCartney. Peter and Brian are as big as it gets in the guitar world, so I think we can attract some really good names. Where there's a will, there's a way."
In talking with Danny, you're left with the feeling that he will indeed find a way. His enthusiasm for what he's doing is contagious. After a lifetime of searching, he is a man who seems to have found his purpose.
"I've never been successful in financial terms, and I attribute that to the fact that I've had about 50 jobs in my life," he said. "Statistics show that one in four people with autistic spectrum disorder hold a job, but what we do well is immerse ourselves in the things we love. I'm not trying to capitalize on this financially – I just want to help some great charities, share great music and have fun with it all. And I hope that I can prove that anything is possible if you just try."
Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.
When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.
They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.
I want them to look no further than United Airlines.
That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.
They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.
That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.
We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.
We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.
We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.
As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.
Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.
They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.
Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.
Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.
Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.
But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.
We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.
It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.
On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.
Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.
"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.
"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."
Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.
The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.
Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.
Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.
Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.
"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."
When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.
For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.
Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.
That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.
"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."
The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.
About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.
"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."
When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.
"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."
On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.
"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."
For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.