Fantasy Flights Now Taking Off - United Hub

Fantasy Flights: A magical winter wonderland

By Matt Adams, December 06, 2017

For decades, Fantasy Flights have been an annual holiday tradition in several of United's markets. For one day each December, our employees transform airport gate areas into a winter wonderland to give children afflicted by illness, poverty and special needs the experience of a lifetime.

Fantasy Flights transport kids to an entirely new world within our stations, complete with singing and dancing, toys, crafts and Santa Claus himself. The children and their families have the opportunity to board an actual aircraft, and then are taxied or, in some cases, flown to another gate, where employees created the magic of the North Pole.

The process of bringing Fantasy Flights to life begins long before December and is made possible due entirely to volunteers, who coordinate the festivities at each airport. Employees and retirees bake cookies, decorate hangars and gates, raise money and even dress up in holiday themed costumes.

This year, our domestic operations in Phoenix, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Washington D.C., Denver, Honolulu, London and Newark will each create a Fantasy Flight experience for local children to enjoy. And then there's one, perhaps less likely location for Kris Kringle's workshop: The South Pacific.

Guam employees attending Fantasy Flights event last year in 2015

North Pole in the tropics

Since 2014 our station in Guam has held claim to the southernmost “North Pole-bound departure" in our system, treating youngsters to an unforgettable day. Guam Airport Operations Supervisors Tammy Castro and Jean Babauta have coordinated the event since its inception, with help from a wonderful team of volunteers from United.

“We first heard about Fantasy Flights in 2013," Tammy said. “Our former general manager Meg Parangalan said, 'The stations on the mainland are doing this, we should do one on Guam,' and that was the beginning of it. We held our first one the following year."

From there, the team was off and running, putting on a holiday fest that Guamanians could be proud of. There is a photo booth, a cookie decorating station, face painting, singers, food, candy and an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus (“our Santa has a real beard," Jean added with pride). Our employees also partnered with businesses to get donations of food and ornament-making kits so the children can craft their own decorations, a popular Fantasy Flight activity. And you know if Santa is around, then gifts are sure to follow.

Jean described Mr. Claus's unique delivery method: “After we land, everyone goes through the customs area, and when they get to the other side, there's a baggage carousel; on it are wrapped gifts for each one of the children, with big name tags. It's a lot of fun to watch them look for their box and open them up to see their presents inside."

The first year, the employees in Guam invited families from a low-income housing development. The second year they chose an organization dedicated to children with Down syndrome, and for last year's Fantasy Flight they worked with Parents Empowering Parents of Children with Disabilities, Inc. (PEP) and vision and hearing therapists at local schools to recruit participants.

Each Fantasy Flight is the result of months of preparation and countless hours of work on the part of United employees from all around the company, but that effort is rewarded tenfold the minute the children walk through the door and their faces light up.

Tammy and Jean each recounted their most vivid memories from the past couple of years. “The first year, I boarded the plane and flew with the group," Tammy said, “and I would say that probably 90 percent of the kids had never flown before. When we took off, they all started cheering, and that gave me goose bumps."

Jean expressed how important the Fantasy Flights are, not only for the children, but for their parents as well. “The parents feel acknowledged, and they are so appreciative and thankful for everything," she said. “It's nice to see all of that joy."

So, you might be thinking, what's the hardest part of recreating the North Pole in a place like Guam? “Making snow is always a challenge," Jean said, laughing, and Tammy agreed: “Last year we tried using a fog machine to give the illusion of snow," Tammy said, “but what a mess! Now we have two snow machines that shoot out artificial snow, and we always ask the airport authority to pump up the air conditioning on the day of the flight."

Snow or no snow, it's safe to say that the Fantasy Flights are a memory that the children of Guam will carry with them for life. And who's to say that Santa can't trade in his trademark coat and boots for board shorts and flip flops, at least for one day?

Group shot of employees dressed up in costumes for Fantasy Flights festivities

San Antonio Fantasy Flight jingles all the way

15 years later, Houston 737 Captain Vern Robinson still remembers the four-year-old girl in a dress. He was prepping to fly his first Fantasy Flight when the little girl with a smile as wide as a Boeing 747 approached him and said hi. "Seeing this cancer-stricken girl, roughly the same age as my kids who were sitting at home all healthy... that stuck with me and made me feel very fortunate," Vern said. Vern's been flying the San Antonio Fantasy Flight ever since, and he was there last weekend to fly this year's, which was San Antonio's 31st. This one took on a bit of a special meaning for him, as San Antonio partners with the American Cancer Society to fly kids with cancer to the "North Pole," and his wife has recently overcome cancer.


Fantasy Flight schedule:

December 1: Phoenix

December 2: Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, San Antonio and San Francisco

December 5: Honolulu

December 7: Guam

December 9: Washington D.C. Dulles, Denver, Cleveland

December 12: London

December 13: Newark

Follow all of the activity on social media using #UAFantasyFlights

Transforming Newark into the North Pole

Ever wonder how we set up Fantasy Flights? Watch as we transformed Newark Airport into the North Pole last year.

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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