The Hemisphere Guide to Family Vacations
Hemispheres

The Hemispheres guide to family vacations

By The Hub team

Illustrations by Stacey Lamb | Hemispheres June 2018

Whether your kids dream of being superheroes, star athletes, or, yes, wizards, we've got the perfect family vacation — for them and for you.

If your kid wants to be Iron Man

Have a kid who thinks he can fly? Who shoots repulsor rays from his hands and jumps off the couch into pits of lava to save strangers (i.e., his stuffed animals) from danger? The new Marvel Day at Sea Cruise was designed for him.

Launched in late 2017, this five-day trip offers everything that's normally on a Disney Magic cruise—incredible stage shows, interactive dinners, a stop on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay—with a special all-Marvel day that will leave your kiddo shouting “Avengers assemble!" before passing out on his sleeper-sofa.

Aside from superhero meet-and-greets (smartly, tickets for the most popular characters are timed to avoid lines wrapping around the ship; also, moms, know this: Thor is very attractive), Marvel activities abound. Kids can head to the Oceaneer Club for tutorials with Thor, who teaches them how to wield their own Mjolnir for good, and Spider-Man, who shows how quick reflexes are the key to capturing bad guys. Artists offer budding comic-book illustrators Bob Ross–style lessons in how to draw Iron Man and his pals, and afterward, families can head to one of the movie theaters (plural) to catch a screening of the latest Marvel Studios flick (this year it was Black Panther; next year, maybe Captain Marvel?)

It all culminates in a grand live spectacular on the top deck that sees basically all the Avengers—yes, even Black Widow and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy—battling Loki, Red Skull, and the Hydra agents to secure Stark Industries' new (and dangerous) power source. It's a clever, high-action show with acrobatics, choreographed fight scenes, and fireworks that will have you cheering louder than your kid. —Ellen Carpenter

The Digs:
Book a deluxe oceanview stateroom with a verandah—because verandah. Being able to sit outside and watch the whitecaps crash while recapping the day with a glass of wine (each adult is allowed to bring two bottles aboard—money saver!) is key once your little ones conk out.

The Feast:
In general, the food is great—crab legs and shrimp at the lunch buffet; beef Wellington at the Animator's Palate; even Hulk green bread on the Marvel day—but definitely do an adults-only dinner at Palo, a northern Italian restaurant offering superb antipasti, lobster pappardelle, Dover sole, and more. And be sure to get the Palo cocktail, made with pear vodka, limoncello, grappa, and prosecco.

Illustration of platform 9 3/4 from the beloved Harry Potter movie

If your kid wants to be Harry Potter

Have a kid who keeps a wand in his bookbag so he can keep trying the Accio spell? Who introduces himself by saying which house he's in? (Gryffindor, obviously.) Fly to London—preferably on Hagrid's motorcycle—where a surfeit of Harry Potter–themed activities await.

Your first task is to visit Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden (20 miles outside London), where all eight of the Harry Potter films were made. Reservations are required, but once you're there, a docent leads you into the Great Hall, where you'll have hours to roam two sound stages and a back lot full of sets (Diagon Alley!), costumes (Hermione's Yule Ball gown!), props (the intricate 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts castle used for wide shots!), and interactive exhibits that reveal the films' secrets. You can also get your picture taken while riding a broomstick and sample the infamous butterbeer.

Back in the city, visit Platform 9 ¾ at King's Cross Station and other locations depicted in the films with Tours for Muggles, a two-and-a-half-hour walk that starts near London Bridge tube station. By night, head to the West End to take in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part stage play based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. Finally, book a visit to Enigma Quests' School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, where adults and kids work in teams to solve puzzles and riddles to escape their rooms. “Graduates" don Hogwarts-style robes and receive calligraphy diplomas. —Kathryn Jessup

The Digs:
You'll want to book a Wizard Chamber at the Georgian House Hotel to form the foundation of your experience. These cozy suites are hidden behind bookcases and replicate Hogwarts dormitories in detail (cauldrons in the fireplaces, four-poster beds). Also magical: the full English breakfast, which will keep you fueled for hours.

The Feast:
You'll think you've walked into the Leaky Cauldron itself when you descend to Fleet Street's Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a family-friendly pub dating to 1667 that played host to Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. Kids will love the fish and chips—with mushy peas, of course—and you'll love having a proper pint.

Illustration of skier going down a mountain slope

If your kid wants to be Mikaela Shiffrin

Have a kid who collects trail maps and sleeps in her speed suit the night before every trip to the slopes? Who watches the weather incessantly for storm advisories and sets up gates in your backyard, planning her fastest lines?

Wax those skis and head to Colorado, home of Olympic gold medalist and World Cup Champion Mikaela Shiffrin. Earlier this year, the Centennial State native became an investor in Denver-based Alterra Mountain Company, which owns 12 year-round mountain destinations, including one of the best places for kids to learn and race: Steamboat.

Besides having terrain perfectly suited to kids—and the Steamboat Snowsports School to help them master it—the resort operates one of the largest recreational race facilities in the world. The Bashor Race Arena offers daily NASTAR (National Standard Race) events, which give kids of any age an opportunity to compete and compare scores. Top competitors are invited to the annual NASTAR National Championships, where winners earn medals like real Olympians. If that's not enough, racers here also have access to historic Howelsen Hill, the home of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which has been helping Steamboat Springs produce the most Olympians of any town in the U.S. for more than 100 years. Better clear some shelf space for all those future medals… —Amiee White Beazley

The Digs:
One Steamboat Place, at the base of the Steamboat gondola, is made for families. A heated outdoor pool, three hot tubs, and a game room equipped with flatscreen TVs, pool tables, and shuffleboard courts ensure that the kids will be able to work off any energy left over from the slopes. Book your stay at the private residence club through Moving Mountains, which offers a hand-picked collection of spacious places.

The Feast:
Before hitting the slopes, fuel up at the Creekside Café in historic downtown Steamboat Springs. Try the Barn Burner—bacon, cheddar cheese, and scrambled eggs on a homemade biscuit smothered in sausage gravy—and pair it with a freshly pressed organic juice. Après-ski, head to Rex's American Bar & Grill, which serves “2 Handed" sand-wiches, brick oven pizzas, and some of the best fish tacos north of the border.

Illustration of surfer hitting the waves

If your kid wants to be Kelly Slater

Have a kid who watches The Endless Summer weekly? Who practices popping up on the coffee table? Take your aspiring surfer where the mountains meet the sea, along the American Riviera.

In spite of recent wildfires and mudslides, the surf scene in Santa Barbara is thriving, and this city with a small-town feel is the perfect place to travel with a teen in search of waves.

“Surf schools and camps are the norm here, just like soccer and baseball," says Heather Hudson, a local surfer and director of the documentary series The Women and the Waves. The best is the Santa Barbara Surf School, which will outfit your kid with a wetsuit and board and select a beach tailored to his level of ability (Leadbetter Beach and Mondos are great for beginners). The school's guides could not be more prudent or more devoted to getting your youngster up on his board and having fun in the Pacific. One-on-one classes are $85, and though they last just an hour and a half, they will leave the kid exhausted. Afterward, let him catch his breath at Rincon Point, “the queen of the coast," and watch the pros catch waves that seem to never end.

Picking out his dream board is next. Head to the Funk Zone, a neighborhood packed with surf shops like Channel Islands, J7, and Beach House, to ogle boards crafted locally by some of the world's most famed shapers and, maybe best of all, share wipeout stories with the righteously tanned store clerks. —KJ

The Digs:
Check in to the new Hotel Californian, where a classic Santa Barbara Spanish exterior gives way to a modern Moorish interior with just a touch of youthful edge. Borrow the complimentary bicycles to explore the Waterfront district and then cool off in the rooftop pool.

The Feast:
Refuel after the lesson with salmon, ahi, or yellowtail poke bowls at Big Eye Raw Bar downtown, and have dinner at the hotel's fine-dining spot, Blackbird. End your meal with a dessert of goat cheese, blood orange sorbet, crispy quinoa, basil, and fennel pollen. It's gnarly—in the best way possible.

Illustration of storybook character, Robin Hood

If your kid wants to be Robin Hood

Have a kid who's slick with a plastic sword? Who hits the bull's-eye on her Nerf archery set 9 out of 10 shots? Who's always surrounded by merry compatriots? Time to pay a visit to the home of “the world's first superhero."

Nottingham, a midsize city 110 miles north of London, is known for being the former haunt—possibly, maybe—of the world's most famous outlaw (who may or may not have existed). What is undeniably real is the moral at the heart of the mythology: It's OK to steal, as long as you take from the rich and give to the poor. Kids who challenge this premise are quickly corrected: “The laws he was fighting were unjust!" the men in tights will tell you.

At Nottingham Castle, see where the evil Sheriff once—possibly, maybe—imprisoned Robin. Just across the way is The Robin Hood Experience, a quirky attraction run by a faux Robin named Adam Greenwood. Wander a labyrinth of tiny rooms inhabited by various characters who tell tales of yore. On the way out, buy a mini longbow and a green outfit.

Next, take Ade Andrews's Robin Hood Town Tour—as much a theatrical performance as a historical overview. While tracing the line from bloodthirsty medieval ballads to the sanitized Hollywood version, Andrews is apt to twirl his sword in the air or toot his cow-horn trumpet.

Finally, take up bows and arrows—Robin's weapon of choice—at a lesson with the archery club Wilford Bowmen, where seasoned archers will show your tiny outlaw how to hit a (not very distant) target. Be sure to take a turn yourself, so she can laugh at your failure. —Chris Wright

The Digs:
Not only is the boutique Hart's Hotel within arrow's range of Nottingham Castle, part of it is built on the ramparts. Book one of the two suites so you have room to spread out and don your finest for a meal at the hotel's restaurant, one of the best spots in town.

The Feast:
If fine dining doesn't grab you, head to The Alchemist, which recently opened an outpost in a glorious Victorian building in downtown Nottingham. The food ranges from beet risotto to Moroccan lamb rump, neither of which was likely on the menu in Sherwood Forest.

Illustration of child and mother walking through the National Mall in D.C.

If your kid wants to be Michelle Obama

Have a kid who spends her weekends volunteering at the Salvation Army? Who follows notable figures instead of her friends on Instagram? For a dose of history and hope, head to Washington, D.C.

Make your first stop the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016 and has been the hottest ticket in town ever since. The lower three floors are dedicated to History, from the slave trade to #BlackLivesMatter. It's a painful but necessary exhibit that displays slave shackles so small they must have been for a child, as well as murdered teen Emmett Till's coffin. Before heading upstairs to the more celebratory exhibitions in the Culture gallery, stop in the Contemplative Court, where a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. adorns the wall behind a waterfall fountain: “We are determined … to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."

The Washington Monument stands mere yards from the museum, so afterward saunter over to the National Mall and think about how 200,000 people gathered there in 1963 to hear MLK speak about a new future. Next, catch a glimpse of that imagined future at the National Portrait Gallery, which unveiled the Obamas in February. The power of Kehinde Wiley's floral-encased depiction of Barack is impossible to deny. Finally, cab to another depiction of the Obamas that's a must-see for any aspiring Civil Rights leader: the mural at Ben's Chili Bowl, which also features Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, and even Taraji P. Henson. Anyone, after all, can make a difference.—EC

The Digs:
The Hay-Adams is the stay for a kid who wants to be right in the action. (Sasha and Malia Obama slept here before calling the White House home.) From free cookies at check-in to loaner wellies on rainy days, the hotel puts its youngest guests first.

The Feast:
NMAAHC's Sweet Home Café
invokes the African diaspora in foods like black-eyed-pea-and-corn empanadas. Later, head to the InterContintental at The Wharf's Kith/Kin, where chef Kwame Onwuachi mixes flavors from Nigeria, Jamaica, and New Orleans.

Illustration of baseball park

If your kid wants to be Willie Mays

Have a kid who asked for a subscription to MLB.TV as a birthday present? Who cracked every fence slat in your yard pitching imaginary games? Get your little seamhead close to the action without breaking the bank by heading to the Cactus League.

Each year, from late February through late March, 15 MLB teams prepare for the season at facilities located within a 47-mile radius of Phoenix. Here, there's no such thing as nosebleed seats, and a box of Cracker Jack won't set you back $10. The outfield lawn seats at Scottsdale Stadium offer a perfect vantage point for the game while also allowing younger kids to run around. Starting at only $10 a ticket, you'll pay a fraction of the admission at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Games often sell out, so get tickets in advance, and look for family packages. There are also kid-themed days, such as at Peoria Sports Complex where on Sundays, kids 12 and under can stand with a player during the national anthem or announce who's stepping up to bat. At Sloan Park kids get “First-Timer Certificates" to memorialize their first Cactus League.

The Digs:
The Phoenician, a five-star resort in Scottsdale, offers six swimming pools, I.Fly trapeze lessons, and s'mores and stargazing at night. The Funicians Club gives parents a chance to hit the spa while kids explore the on-site cactus garden and play video games.

The Feast:
For great Mexican food, head to La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval, at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The kids' menu will keep your little ones happy, while a custom tequila flight (there's a Tequila Goddess on staff) and guacamole made tableside will do the trick for you.

Adventures in ancient Beijing

By The Hub team

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 Houston-based Quality Control Aircraft Inspector Rey Sacueza

As I thought back to my world history class in high school, a lesson about ancient China made me fascinated and intrigued with the country's mysterious and charming appeal. What really sparked my interest in this lesson was the Great Wall of China. That day I wished that someday I could walk and climb the stairs of this magnificent and amazing structure, built by human hands. 40 years later, this wish became a reality when my wife and I boarded a United flight bound for Beijing. Our time there was unforgettable – the experience was once in a lifetime for both of us.

Arriving in a country without knowing, speaking and understanding the signs/symbols and language made me feel very uncomfortable and out of my element at first. Even though we don't speak nor understand the language, to get to our hotel we managed to communicate with our taxi driver through sign language, the ultimate universal language of the world. Translation apps downloaded on our phones were also very helpful.

Exploring many sites in Beijing

Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City in Beijing, China


The next day, after a good night's sleep and with a full stomach following breakfast, we were ready and excited for the day of adventure. Our tour guide picked us up at our. hotel and guided us through the sights of Beijing. We experienced a bird's eye view of the Forbidden City from the highest peak of Jingshan Park, a spectacular, postcard worthy view. Seeing the cute, world-famous Giant Panda at the Beijing zoo chowing down on bamboo was also an experience to remember. We also explored the 2008 Olympic stadium called the "Birds Nest" and the aquatic center. We rode a rickshaw through the hutongs of the oldest neighborhood of the city and then into the Yonghe (Lama) temple with interesting works of art. At night, we attended a show at Red Theater featuring "Legend of Kung Fu," which was performed by China's leading performing artists, top kung fu practitioners, acrobats and dancers using precision artistry and skills. It was an amazing show not to be missed while in Beijing.

Continuing our adventures the next day, we were guided through a full day of experiences, full of seeing even more major sites Beijing has to offer. We explored the ancient and mysterious Forbidden City, strolled around the legendary Tiananmen Square, absorbed the majestic charm of the Summer Palace/Temple of Heaven and the sacred grounds and tombs of the Ming dynasty. After a long day of exploring, we headed to Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant on Wangfujing Street, where you can eat the world-famous Beijing (Peking) duck. Here, a chef will carve the duck right in front of you and present it to you at your table - a mouthwatering dining experience and another must while in Beijing.

On our last day, we saved the best for last. As they say, "No trip to Beijing would be complete without going to the Wall." At last, my ultimate dream and the inspiration that brought us to Beijing: We were at the Great Wall of China. We walked, climbed and took many pictures of one of the most iconic wonders and largest historical sites in the world. It's also one of the greatest feats of engineering and architecture in the world. No wonder it's a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!

Beijing is one of the most amazing cities in the world with countless once-in-a-lifetime experiences that are definitely worth the trip.

United and Special Olympics

Taking inclusion to new heights

Our shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world — and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics.

Learn more

Find United in New York's Penn Station

By The Hub team

In July 2015, through an effort to showcase our dedication to the New York/New Jersey area, we opened a branded experiential space in New York's Penn Station. The space was created to allow our customers the opportunity to engage with employees, as well as to help provide information on new routes, promotions, sponsorships and amenities. During the work week, a few of our Customer Service Representatives are available as additional resources for customers to help with upcoming travel plans, booking future travel or just simply to provide travel inspiration.

Since opening, there have been a number of events and promotions such as teaming up with TSA for a TSA Pre✓® enrollment event and offering Global Entry interviews to make the process even more convenient for you. Events and promotions take place throughout the year so be sure to stop the next time you're traveling through Penn Station.

Our United space at Penn Station is located near the main concourse and Amtrak waiting area. There are Customer Service Representatives available at the space Monday through Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM, as well as promotions and events taking place live Monday through Friday from 7:30AM to 9:30AM and from 4:00PM to 6:00PM; schedule pending holidays and government observances.

Eating through Asia, Excursionist Perk style

By The Hub team

The best part about travel, according to Marc Marrone?

"Being able to taste and try the different cuisines," Marrone says, "because even if you don't speak the language of whatever country or culture you happen to be in, you can express a lot via food."
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Spoken like a true, world class chef. Marrone, the Corporate Executive Chef for TAO Group Las Vegas, Hollywood and Singapore, recently got to immerse himself in Southeast Asian culture – and cuisine – on a week-long foodie dream come true of a trip, thanks to United's new San Francisco-Singapore route.

Marrone experienced just how spectacularly grand and modern Singapore is – the towering Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the luminescent stalks of Supertree Grove and the curved roof of the Esplanade Concert Hall all amazed him. And few cities interweave modernity and greenery quite like Singapore, a fact he had great appreciation for. Look no further than the Gardens by the Bay, a 250-acre nature park featuring intricately designed, flora-infused structures.

But beneath all of those stop-and-stare attractions lied what resonated most with Marrone: the food. From hawker stalls and wet (food) markets to Michelin-starred fine dining establishments, Singapore boasts meal options that cater to every mood.

Sharing in those food experiences with others who hadn't yet been to Singapore was his favorite part.

"You know, to see someone's face when they get to try something for the first time --that you've already had -- is an incredible experience, to be able to share that with somebody," Marrone says. "But then on top of that, experiencing some things on my own for the first time with everybody was really a crazy and amazing experience. We got to eat some amazing food and got to try some amazing things, and see some really cool parts of the city."

Additionally, Singapore is a great launching pad to the rest of Southeast Asia — as Marrone experienced, thanks to United's Excursionist Perk. Who wouldn't want two trips for the price of one?

The Excursionist Perk is meant to give a free one-way segment to travelers on round-trip award itineraries between two different regions, as defined by the United award chart. By invoking the Excursionist Perk, travelers can get a segment for no additional miles within the region they're visiting as long as it's a different region than where they're starting. All they have to pay are the taxed and fees associated with the new segment. For example, Newark-London-Vienna-Newark would cost the same amount of miles as Newark-London-Newark.

Marrone cooking on the streets of Vietnam

Marrone getting around via moped in Vietnam


Marrone used the Excursionist Perk to add a day in Vietnam to his itinerary on his Singapore trip.

"I got to cook on the side of the street and eat some of the best food right off the grill on the sidewalk," Marrone said. "Little did I know how much of an impact the 26 hours we spent there would have on me."

To Marrone, Vietnam stands out more than any other destination he's been to.

"From the minute we got off the plane to then we got back on the plane, it was a full immersive cultural experience between all the different foods, we got to experience how we travel around Vietnam, and really got to spend a true day in the life of what it's like to be in Vietnam."

5 tips & tricks we learned

  • Eat at a hawker center more than once They're everywhere and Singapore is home to the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world (Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle).
  • The airport is a destination in and of itself The world's best airport for many years complete with a butterfly garden and rooftop pool. English is an official language of the country so no language barriers and it's a hub for Asian destinations so you're only a few hours from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and many more.
  • Download Grab Singapore doesn't have Uber or Lyft so the Grab app is a must-have for getting around town.
  • There's more than one infinity pool in town While the iconic Marina Bay Sands has its very popular roof top infinity pool, you can also find one at the JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South.
  • You can still hit the beach in Singapore Singapore is home to Sentosa, a man-made island that features a beach that is over a mile long. You can also hit one of the two golf courses, 14 hotels and even Resorts World Sentosa, featuring the theme park Universal Studios Singapore and a casino.
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The many faces of our United family

By The Hub team

United is a second home to almost 90,000 people across the world. These employees work tirelessly day-in and day-out to help us run a safe, caring, dependable and efficient airline. We asked a few long-time employees from around our network about what they do, why they were drawn to careers in the airline and what they love about their jobs. Here's what they had to say.

Rosa Fernandes

Rosa has been a customer service representative at New York/Newark (EWR) for 31 years.

Rosa helps a United customer.

"Since I can remember, I've loved airplanes. I first traveled on an airplane back in 1978 when I came from Portugal. I was lucky enough that they put my family and me in first class on a 747 from Lisbon to America. I had a window seat … my face was glued to the window."

Joe Bunker

Joe is a Boeing 777 first officer based at Chicago O'Hare (ORD) for 24 years.

Joe pictured with his daughter, Callie.

"I enjoy speaking with our passengers, even if it is just saying 'thank you and goodbye' at the end of a flight. During irregular operations, it is rewarding to explain how and why the weather event (or maintenance problem) is affecting our operation."

Jim Hott

Jim is lead ramp service employee at Houston (IAH), and has been with United 35 years.

Jim pictured on a United ramp.

"In a nutshell, I am responsible for the safe loading and unloading of aircraft I have been assigned to service. This encompasses making sure all personnel are safe in doing so. This not only includes United coworkers, but vendors such as aircraft fueling personnel, aircraft cleaners, etc."

Marilyn Adkins

Marilyn is a senior production controller in Technical Operations at San Francisco (SFO), and has been with United 29 years.

Marilyn pictured with another United employee.


"I dreamed of working for an airline from the time I was 12. I wanted to work as part of an in-flight team, however my small stature didn't meet the early requirements of this group. I started working in the kitchens then … went to school to get my airframe and powerplant licenses which allow you to work on the aircraft. After a brief period as a mechanic, I entered management within Tech Ops."

M.J. Flaherty

M.J. is an operations manager in the Network Operations Center [NOC] in Chicago and has been with United 40 years.

M.J. pictured in the United NOC

"When I go home at the end of the day, I think about all of the people that successfully got to where they wanted to go. … I think people don't fully understand how many people are involved in getting a flight out, not only on time, but safely to the destination."

James Simons

James is the base chief pilot at Washington Dulles (IAD) and has been with United 29 years.

James pictured at Chicago's O'Hare Airport

"The best day on the job was when I first became a captain … I was the final authority on all things that affected the almost 160 people that were on board that flight. They were concerned with their upcoming business meetings, vacation plans or just visiting relatives, and they trusted me and my crew to get them to their destination safely and on time."

The gift of a lifetime

By Matt Adams , November 14, 2018

The last thing Newark-based Flight Attendant Jair Ripoll wanted to do was ask for help on social media. It just didn't seem right to him, airing his personal pain like that for everyone to see. But on a layover last fall, his friends and colleagues, Newark-based Flight Attendants Frank Luff and Colleen McClelland, urged him — pleaded, actually — to post news of his condition to Facebook in the hope of a miracle.

Ten years ago, Jair was diagnosed with a hereditary kidney disease. He was told at that time he would need a transplant as the disease progressed, but he had been unable to find a friend or family member who could donate one of their kidneys. Jair registered on the organ waiting list in Florida, where his family lives, praying that his name would be called before it was too late. With each passing year, the situation became more desperate.

At work, Jair kept the severity of his condition to himself. Flying was his safe place. The time he spent in the sky provided him a welcomed break from the fears surrounding his health. Frank and Colleen were shocked when he confided in them how sick he was.

"Colleen said, 'You never know how many angels are out there,'" Jair said, recalling how she encouraged him to tell his story on Facebook where his friends and fellow employees could read it and, hopefully, a potential donor would emerge. Jair was reticent, but Colleen and Frank convinced him by taking his phone and writing the post for him. Less than a minute after they published it, a message alert flashed across Jair's phone's screen. Someone had already replied.

"Steven was the first person to respond," Jair said. "I saw it and showed it to Colleen and Frank, and we all started crying."

Jair had flown with fellow Flight Attendant Steven Lepine many times and considered him a friend, but he never expected that Steven would be the first person to offer him the chance at a healthy life.

"I knew Jair had been sick, but I didn't know the extent of it," Steven said. "I felt like he was putting so much on the line with that Facebook post, and I just wanted to help him."

When Jair returned home to New Jersey, the two met for lunch and talked about what the transplant process entailed, including the battery of tests that Steven would need to undergo to make sure his kidney would be a good match for Jair.

"My family — my mother, especially — was worried," Steven said. "She knew the risks, but she also knew that once I decide something, I don't go back."

Things were going well until last October, when Jair's health took a sudden turn during a trip to Barcelona. When he got home, he barely had the strength to move. His friend, Flight Attendant Stephanie Torres, rushed him to the hospital in North Bergen, New Jersey, where doctors discovered that Jair had deadly levels of toxins in his body. They immediately put him on dialysis while Steven continued his tests. Finally, at the beginning of November, they got the call from the doctors at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, where the transplant was to take place: Steven was fully cleared. The procedure was scheduled for December 6.

At 6 a.m. on the day of the surgery, Jair and Steven met in the pre-operation room. Joining them were Steven's mother, his close friend and fellow Flight Attendant Jon Little, and Jair's mother and brother, setting up the first meeting of the families. Though there was a language barrier — Jair's mother only speaks Spanish, Steven's only English — the emotions that filled the space needed no translation. "Steven's mom said to me, 'Now you become my son as well,'" Jair said.

A few hours later, they emerged from the operating room. The transplant had been a success, though the recovery process would be long. Steven returned to work in January and Jair should be cleared to fly again this month. The two talk almost daily, checking in on one another and offering encouragement.

"Jair is my blood brother now," said Steven. "We'll always have this connection."

Jon Little, who stayed by Steven's bedside during the operation, has remained in awe of his friend. "He's a very giving soul," Jon said of Steven. "He's an amazing person, but this took him to a whole new level. He's so modest, he says it's not a big deal, but this is probably one of the most incredible things I've ever seen."

Steven does indeed downplay what he did, and in talking with him you get a sense of the selfless determination that compelled him toward such an incredible act.

"I look at it as helping out another person," he said. "I'm not looking for recognition or anything like that. I never dreamed that I would do something like this, but the moment presented itself and the need was there, and I felt like I had to step up to the plate."

But for Jair, it was more than that. Much more. Because of Steven's gift, his life is forever changed and he struggles with how to adequately express his gratitude. "I don't even have the words, or know how to thank him for something like this," Jair said.

"The reason we want this story told is because we want it to be an example to other people at the airline," he continued. "The people you work with really do become your family. If someone has a problem, I hope our story will help them find the courage to come forward and ask for help. It's like Colleen told me: You never know who your angels are."

Join us in our wildfire relief efforts in California

By The Hub team , November 13, 2018

Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to California and to lifting up communities in need by announcing $150,000 in direct donations to the Ventura County Community Foundation and the North Valley Community Foundation for their efforts in areas affected by the ongoing California wildfires. We also launched a Crowdrise campaign to award up to five million bonus miles for individuals who make donations of $50 or more. All funds will go toward efforts to support affected communities in California. We also continue to work with the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and both community foundations with offers to fly first responders who need to get in or around California.

"United is deeply connected to the affected communities and with a profound sense of both sadness and duty during this difficult time, we are proud to offer our assistance," said Janet Lamkin, United's president for California. "We will continue to engage our generous customers, employees and MileagePlus members and work with local leadership to support all those affected by these devastating fires."

Donations to the Crowdrise campaign supports three relief partners:

  • American Red Cross
  • Ventura County Community Foundation
  • North Valley Community Foundation

Today's announcement builds on our continued commitment to California and recent campaigns to aid in response to wildfires and other disasters. Over the last 12 months, we have raised and donated more than $900,000 to help communities affected by the wildfires.

We are also offering a travel waiver for customers ticketed on flights to, from or through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Customers may reschedule their itineraries for travel through November 25 with a one-time date or time change, and we will waive the change fees and any difference in fare for flights booked in the same cabin and same arrival/destination airports.

An unforgettable first: Rhett receives his flight certificate

By Matt Adams

Like most parents traveling with a baby for the first time, Kristin and Tyler Hildebrand felt a mix of excitement and nerves as they boarded the aircraft with their infant son, Rhett, during a recent family vacation to Cancun, Mexico. As they settled into their seats and made Rhett comfortable for his big adventure, Chicago-based Flight Attendant Paolo Vento stopped by to say hello.

In talking with Vento, the Hildebrands mentioned it was their first time flying together as a family. Hearing that, Paolo's eyes widened. To him, a first flight is as memorable an experience as a child's first step or first word (not to mention a badge of honor for anxious moms and dads) and deserves the same sort of celebration.

"I asked Kristin if she kept a scrapbook and she said yes, so I asked her if she'd like a first flight certificate for Rhett," he said. "She was so excited."

It's a practice that Vento began a few years ago after a family asked him to take their picture to commemorate their daughter's first trip. He asked the parents if they would like a certificate, and it grew from there. Since then, Vento estimates he's given out 40 or 50 of them, making each one at home and mailing them out on his own time and his own dime. The certificates are inscribed with the child's name, the flight's date, the origin and destination, and a short message that reads, in part, "Thank you for entrusting us with this milestone journey through the 'Friendly Skies.'"

"You only have one first flight, and it's nice to have these kinds of things to remember it with," said Vento. "What if that boy or girl grows up to become a pilot? Now they'll have a certificate to show the first time they were on an airplane. It goes back to doing these little acts that show we care."

Mrs. Hildreband took a photograph of Rhett with his certificate and posted it to Instagram, which drew oohs and aahs from other moms. She even sent Vento a nice note and shared it with his supervisor.

"Thank you so much for your kindness and thoughtfulness to take the time to do this. We will treasure this forever," she wrote. "Getting your package made my day. The world needs more people like you."

Things like this come naturally to Vento, who has brought plenty of smiles to the faces of customers over his 24 years at United thanks to his exceptional brand of service.

"If you feel like doing something nice for the customers, just do it, especially if it's authentic," he said. "It's something they'll never forget, and that's what they'll think about when they think of United."

Lifting up immigrant families in California

By The Hub team , November 13, 2018

From mental-health evaluations to language and legal assistance, we are committed to addressing the most pressing needs of the thousands of immigrants that call California home. Earlier this year, we announced a $1 million grant to the San Francisco Legal & Education Network (SFILEN), a nonprofit that advocates for full access to social services and direct legal services to immigrant families regardless of their immigration status.

"United cares deeply about investing in communities we serve," said Janet Lamkin, president, California, for United. "We have been a part of the San Francisco community for 90 years, and we are proud to help SFILEN in its important work with the immigrant community."

Through a four-year partnership, the grant will allow the organization to provide 50 mental-health evaluations each year and 240 hours of language interpretation through SFILEN's hotline, legal consultations and clinics. Additionally, this grant will help SFILEN to hire two full-time staff members to a team that provides critical services to thousands of immigrants every year.

"SFILEN is very grateful for the partnership with United Airlines, and we are very excited about what we can accomplish together," said Marisela Esparza, director of immigrant rights for SFILEN.

This grant is one of eight that we have awarded in the key cities we serve, representing our commitment to invest in and lift up the communities where many of our customers and employees live and work. Each grant is a part of a total of $8 million to help address critical needs in Chicago; Houston; Washington, D.C.; Denver; New York/New Jersey; Los Angeles; and the San Francisco area.

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