Exploring the land of smiles
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 San Francisco-based Base Technician James Hoang
Early in June this year, a good friend and co-worker of mine, Allen Chang, inquired about the places to visit in Thailand. So I took the opportunity to take his family on a tour around the "Land of Smiles." We flew to Korea and enjoyed a few hours at the airport in Incheon. When we arrived in Bangkok, my friend and driver, Chok, gladly picked us up. We were worn out from the long-haul and connecting flights, so we rested that day. The following day, however, we were already early and excited to go on our excursion.
The Chao Phraya is the major river in Thailand and one of the most convenient ways to visit the numerous temples in Bangkok. We boarded one of the small tour boats waiting at the pier and visited several temples built along the river. It was a simple hop on and hop off as we traveled up the river. We were amazed by the details of some of the decorations and hand carved statures as well as the unforgettable sense of peace and tranquility once we set foot in these temples.
Allen's two sons convinced us to visit Phra Prang Sam Yot, a monkey temple that is located in Lopburi, a two-and-a-half hour drive north of Bangkok. The place is known for its monkey festival, which is held every last Sunday of November and has been featured on National Geographic. Lopburi is home to more than 2,000 monkeys, and they are very honored and celebrated by the local people. They are fed by the locals and, since they are not afraid of human contact, they steal whatever items or food they can find from unwary tourists.
Traditionally, long tables are set up early in the morning before the festival. Fruits and vegetables are then placed on top of the tables and are covered with large cloths. After the monks give their blessing and the townspeople show their appreciation, the festivities start and the monkeys come by the hundreds and grab whatever fruits or treats they can get their hands on. So you can just imagine the energy, noise and clamor from the monkeys and the people alike. It was truly fascinating.
Our encounter with the monkeys was absolutely awesome. They're very friendly and always curious, especially when it comes to shiny objects. So it's definitely advisable to leave anything valuable in your car because, once they grab it, you'll never get it back!
Our next destination was the River Kwai, which is a three-hour drive east of Bangkok. We had the chance to explore the famous bridge of the Burma Railway, which crosses the river at Tha Makham Subdistrict of the Mueang District. Crossing the narrow bridge gave us the sense of understanding and a piece of Thai history and culture.
Thailand's countryside is extremely beautiful, with lush green trees that lined the roads. The view of cascading limestone mountains was magnificent. Not to mention the fruit and barbecue stands that often refueled our taste buds.
Our final destination was the town of Kanchanaburi, a historical town known for its infamous World War II Death Railway to Burma (now Myanmar). It is also known for its accessible waterfalls and national parks. But what really drew us to Kanchanaburi was the ElephantsWorld, a nonprofit organization that offers a safe sanctuary for sick, old, disabled, abused and rescued elephants in Thailand.
We couldn't contain our excitement when we finally experienced our elephant encounter. We got acquainted with these beautiful creatures after feeding them. It was then when we realized that elephants have a docile and gentle demeanor. Our entire day was spent with them as we enjoyed the fun in the sun, warm breeze and the gentle, flowing river that is surrounded by thick covered leaves. Our excitement could not be contained -- we were just like kids in the playground full of joy and laughter. The elephants enjoyed us as well, and they most definitely enjoyed the body scrub we gave them.
When we returned the elephants to their safe house, one of my friend's sons fell into tears. He didn't want to leave the river. I heard my friend whisper to the elephant, "I will see you again, soon."
Our trip to Thailand was short, but most of all it was memorable. The memories we've shared, most especially with my friend's two boys, were really worth our while. From the monkey encounter (they've conquered their fears of interacting with them) to admiring the spectacular mountains, views and rivers that surround Thailand, to experiencing the love and warmth of the elephants, Thailand is truly unforgettable.
As I end my travel blog, I would like to say in Thai, "Khob Khun Krab!" which means "Thank you!"
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."
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.
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.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, video conferencing tools that many people are using to stay connected.
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. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).
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.
- 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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