The bottom of the world...almost
By Compliance Senior Staff Representative John Kirchberg
I travel a lot for work, so I'm always looking to complete or add to my travel bucket list. In 2013, I had a chance to go to Cape Town, South Africa, with friends for the World Airline Road Race, which is an annual race held in a different city each year for airline industry professionals from all over the world.
Cape Town has never been on my bucket list. But I can honestly say after 10 days in Cape Town, it's now one of the top three places I've ever visited.
I was there in October, and it still was in the 90s almost every day. The path of travel was ORD to FRA (Frankfurt, Germany), and FRA to Cape Town on South African Airways. The people are friendly, the city is clean and safe, the food is good and the wine is cheap.
Now, let me tell you why you should make the journey. As with every vacation, the weather can be a game changer. We got a home run, and that was huge. If you're an active type, you'll never be bored here. Table Mountain sits right in the middle of the city, so you can easily get to it from anywhere. There are several ways to get to the top, which include a good challenging hike or a less stressful cable car ride. We decided to hike it in the morning, which took about an hour. The trails are marked by signs at the start, but once you get on your way you become Lewis and Clark making your way up 3,500 feet. The views are constantly changing as you go from heavy brush to rocky cliffs. It is a nature hike, so the paths are worn but you shouldn't get lost. From the very top, the views are breathtaking -- 360 degrees of Cape Town, the Atlantic and the bottom of the world (almost). There are more trails on top (all flat), so you can walk for another 1-2 hours and take great pictures. Definitely bring water if you hike; it gets very hot very quickly. Before we headed back down we stopped to hydrate with a cold local brew at a little café. It was a definite "life is good" moment and I would put Table Mountain as No. 1 on my "to do" list in Cape Town.
The city is small so it's not too crowded and easy to get around. Part of the history of the city is the number of countries that have laid claim to it over the years. There is a strong European influence everywhere. One of the first things I noticed was the cleanliness of the city, as well as the friendly and helpful people. Our first hotel was blocks from the city center and right across from the park and beach. Although we had a car, we spent most of our time on foot. We were near the Victoria Wharf, which is a tourist spot with shops and restaurants and is the launching point for most of the ferries and sightseeing boats. I highly recommend the German and Irish pubs at the entrance to the Wharf. From here you can catch a boat to Robben Island and tour the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. Wherever we went, the food was delicious and the prices were extremely inexpensive.
Another adventure is the Cape of Hope Reserve. It's about 60-90 minutes from downtown, but the drive is very scenic. Once in the park, you will see animals everywhere. We saw animals ranging from zebras and ostriches to tortoises and baboons. The baboons are curious about cars and will literally sit in the road to stop them. Signs all over the park warn visitors about how dangerous baboons can be and to not open car windows or feed the animals. Imagine a mini safari from your car. When you reach the Cape, there are trails to walk around the cliffs and out to the lighthouse. On one side is the calm peacefulness of False Bay and on the other is the violent Atlantic crashing on the rocky shore. Looking out over the ocean, I noticed that the next landfall would be Antarctica. I was looking out at the bottom of the world (almost)! I decided right there that Antarctica was on my bucket list as my seventh and final continent. My pictures just do not do the view justice.
On the way back to the city, you can take the inner road which will take you by Boulder Beach where you can swim with penguins. There are also places to dive with sharks. I kept thinking I was in a great big zoo without cages or boundaries.
For the second half of the week, we moved to Stellenbosch in wine country. It is about 30-40 minutes outside of Cape Town. There are vineyards everywhere. Our hotel, The Spier, conveniently had a winery connected to it. I will admit to not being the biggest wine fan, but what I heard from the group was that the wine was good and so cheap that they were sending it back home by the case. It's the Napa of South Africa.
The World Airline Road Race was just outside Stellenbosch, on the grounds of another prison where Nelson Mandela was finally set free.
It was an amazing trip to a place that was never on my radar, but I could not have been more surprised and pleased. Although I came directly home, some of the people in my group decided to take a safari in the area. Their pictures were priceless, and everyone said it was a fantastic experience. My friends and I are active people, so we enjoyed all the options that were available, but I still think there is plenty to do if you like a slower, more relaxing vacation. I know 20 hours on a plane never seems fun, but it is worth it. It's not a weekend trip, but a week-long vacation would be great there. I will definitely go back.
Wouldn't you like to see the bottom of the world… almost?
On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).
A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew we were uniquely positioned to utilize our widebody aircraft and our network to keep commodities moving, so we quickly mobilized various departments throughout the airline to launch a cargo-only network of flights that would keep commodities moving," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "Thanks to those efforts, United Cargo has delivered millions of items to countries all around the world. We would not have been successful without the steadfast support of our employees, industry partners and our customers."
Since last March, United Cargo has transported almost 850 million pounds of freight on cargo-only and passenger flights. The airline will continue to monitor market trends adjust its cargo-only flight schedules to help ensure we are meeting our customer's evolving shipping needs.
Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:
1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance 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.
Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.
2. Check out the Travel-Ready Center
Our Travel-Ready Center makes it easy to get a personalized overview of everything you need to do in preparation for your flight. Just enter your confirmation number or MileagePlus® number and you'll find detailed information on all the documents, tests and more that you'll need for your trip.
3. 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 masks, social distancing and other health and safety measures we've adopted
4. Arrive early; avoid the stress
Airports can be busy, especially during peak travel periods like spring break season. 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.
5. Get familiar with CleanPlus
United CleanPlus℠ is our commitment to delivering industry-leading cleanliness as we put health and safety at the forefront of your experience. We've teamed up with Clorox to redefine our cleaning and disinfection procedures and Cleveland Clinic to advise us on enhancing our cleaning and disinfection protocols, 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
Implementing high-efficiency (HEPA) filters on our aircraft that completely recirculate cabin air every 2-3 minutes and remove 99.97% of airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria
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.
6. Wear your mask
Federal law requires all travelers to wear a face mask in the airport, including customer service counters, airport lounges, gates and baggage claim, and on board during their entire flight. Make sure you review the requirements for face masks, including what an acceptable face mask looks like.
7. Get ready for a safer 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.
8. 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.
9. Check your flight status, important notices and weather
Check the United app regularly for the latest updates on weather conditions, flight status, gate numbers 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.
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.
This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.
"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.
We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
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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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.