A final farewell to the Queen of the Skies
Have you ever wondered what happens to an aircraft after the end of its useful life? Well 13 lucky MileagePlus® members and two of our employees got to find out after winning an Exclusives auction.
The auction prize was a behind-the-scenes trip to Universal Asset Management's (UAM) facility in Tupelo, Mississippi, where our last four Boeing 747s are being disassembled and the parts prepared for recycling. It also included a champagne toast onboard N118UA, our last 747, and dinner under the stars with the Queen of the Skies.
As we arrived at the facility, adjacent to Tupelo Regional Airport, several of us were a little emotional when we saw the aircraft in different stages of disassembly. But in the company's lunch room — decked out with Malaysia Air first class seats, airplane art and a table made from a stabilizer — Keri Wright, UAM's CEO was firm about her company's mission. “We don't tear down or scrap aircraft. We focus on recycling," she stated. “Think of it like organ donation. These parts can help other aircraft continue to fly. And you are among the few people in the world to see all of this from behind the scenes."
We then headed to the facility's Global Distribution Center warehouse. The lobby of the facility featured our first class seats and galley carts, along with a tire rim-and-glass coffee table and a credenza/bar made from the window section of a 737 fuselage.
Wright, along with Senior Manager, Fleet Transactions Jim Garcia walked us through the warehouse and explained how parts were tracked and cataloged. Among the items we saw were two wrapped helicopters, Boeing 777 landing gears, 747 tire rims, thrust reversers and a cowling from the center engine of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10.
When the warehouse tour ended, it was back to the airport facility. We went out on the tarmac and took pictures of the 747s, including the star of the show — N118UA. Though, all four jets' engines had been removed already.
After a series of photos, we climbed the air stair onto N118UA, where we were able to walk around. I had the honor of being on the last United 747 flight in November 2017, so I grabbed a glass of champagne and sat in my seat — 8C — one last time. We all joined in a final champagne toast to the jet, then deplaned for dinner.
One of the lucky winners was Eric Chiang, an economics professor at Florida Atlantic University, who brought his friend Vicky Chiu, who flew in from Hawaii. “We've been friends for years and we love to travel. I was onboard a flight to London and read a short newspaper article about this auction," he recalled. “We were about to take off and I called Vicky and asked her to bid on this event. I bid 168,000 miles, but got it for less.
Chiang and Chiu are both 1K flyers on United. “I expect to do around 15 international trips this year. I love United because they're able to reach more global destinations than any other airlines," said Chiang.
They both appreciated the chance to attend such a unique event. “Experiences like these are different. We really appreciate the chance for this behind-the-scenes event," said Chiang. “It was also a great chance to meet United executives and share feedback on what's going on at the airline."
John Ikeda, a United Global Services member who is approaching two million miles, brought his partner Michael Phelps to the event. He also read about the event in a newspaper article, but he also had a special reason for wanting to attend the 747 farewell.
At the last MileagePlus® Experiences auction, I won an altimeter that was on an older 747, and I wanted to see if I could trace where it came from," said Ikeda. “Jim Garcia was able to trace it for me. I was thrilled that I was able to see other parts from that same 747 in the UAM warehouse.
The event exceeded Ikeda's expectations. “I thought it would just be a warehouse tour, a walk on a plane and not much else," he said. “It was great to hear Keri and Jim discuss this side of the business. It was fascinating to learn that this place wasn't about scrapping aircraft, but giving them new life."
Although this event has passed, it's not too late to bid on hardware from N118UA, including single window and American flag cuts out and tail numbers. Join the MileagePlus® Exclusives email list to stay in the know on the hardware auction and other future events.
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.