Where the Reef Meets the Rainforest - United Hub
Employee Travel Blog

Where the reef meets the rainforest

By The Hub team, April 04, 2017

Each week we will 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 SFO Customer Service Representative Leonida Esquieres

Far north in Queensland, Australia, is a place of immense natural beauty. It is a rich, cosmopolitan mix of cultures and people, as well as the site of three World Heritage Sites -- the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics and the Riversleigh fossil site. It is where time slows down, and we can relax and appreciate a geographically beautiful region.

We flew to Sydney Airport on United's daily nonstop from San Francisco International Airport and from there took another flight to Cairns, the primary gateway to the three World Heritage Sites we were about to explore. The city of Cairns is similar to Honolulu in regards to climate and ambiance. From there, we rented a van and a driver to take us to our next destination, Port Douglas— where the reef meets the rainforest, a tropical wonderland of diversity. This town provides access to the Great Barrier Reef and also the Daintree Rainforest.

Leonida and her family hiking in the Daintree Rainforest

We had the ultimate Great Barrier Reef experience by taking a pontoon reef tour. Throughout the tour, we explored the outer reef, where we enjoyed an array of reef viewing activities, such as glass bottom boat rides, semi submarine coral viewing tours and an underwater observatory. The Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia is the largest coral reef system on Earth and can be seen from outer space. It is comprised of more than 2,900 separate reefs, spanning more than 1,600 miles. It is home to the greatest variety of flora and fauna species found in any one location in the world. It provides the most awe-inspiring experience. This natural wonder offers snorkeling, diving, swimming or simply coral viewing. We had the opportunity to scuba dive and snorkel with Wally, the friendly "fish dog," and a humphead wrasse who was extremely sociable and eager to take us around his kingdom in the reef. It was an incredible experience playing with these two fish dogs under water.

Leonida Esquieres scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef

A day later, we visited the Cape Tribulation Safari in Kuranda, a village in the rainforest. The rainforests of the Wet Tropics are a museum of flora and fauna that were listed as World Heritage Sites in 1988. They cover an area of nearly 900,000 hectares of rainforest and tropical vegetation, stretching for more than 400 kilometers. Here, pockets of primitive plant species have remained undisturbed for millions of years, and rare, even previously unidentified, species of birds, insects and mammals have emerged.

We started our journey from Freshwater railway station to take a scenic train ride to the Kuranda Rainforest on a cable car ride (Kuranda Skyrail), exploring the remarkable rooftop of the rainforest. Along the way, you can hop off of the cable car to visit some sights, including Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station, Barron Falls and the Wet Tropics area. In Kuranda, we wandered around the markets and later went to see the spectacular, tropical butterflies in their most natural habitat.

Following our trip to Kuranda, we visited Mossman Gorge Wet Tropics and took a cruise along the Daintree River, where we saw alligators.

A five-day, well-spent adventure in Queensland is definitely worth the long journey.

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

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