Fun, festive and fierce: Our first Drag Queen brunch in Chicago
It was fun. It was festive. It was fierce… It was our first-ever MileagePlus® Exclusives Drag Queen Brunch in Chicago. As the sold-out crowd of over 200 entered The River Kitchen and Bar in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood on Sunday, cloud balloons hung from the ceiling, feather boas covered chairs, Lizzo and other pop music blasted from the speakers, rainbow lights shined bright and Drag Queens were on-hand to welcome everyone to what would be an epic event celebrating Pride Month and being proud of our commitment to becoming the most inclusive airline in the world.
To attend the event, participants donated their miles to our charity partner, The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth.
"This year, we wanted to take Pride Month a step further by bringing an experience that recognizes and embraces the different communities our customers and employees are part of while supporting a great cause and organization," said Luc Bondar, Vice President of Loyalty and President of MileagePlus. "The brunch created an inclusive environment to come together as a United family. To our Drag Queen performers and volunteers, thank you for allowing us to be part of your story and empowering others through your courage to be who you are."
As attendees took to their seats, sipping on mimosas and tasting entrees with names like, "Fierce Toast", "Snatch My Wig Wings" and more, they cheered, clapped and sang as the Drag Queens performed numbers that had them dancing around the restaurant, jumping on tables and even swinging from the rafters on the ceiling.
"It was very entertaining," said Kevin Mercer, a MileagePlus customer and event attendee. "I'm happy to participate in such a wonderful opportunity to help an organization like The Trevor Project. I want to do what I can to help others and make their situation better."
At the end, the Drag Queens walked the runway in travel and aviation inspired costumes. Bondar was joined by three of our employee volunteers who also are Drag Queens, "Koko Nutwata" (Newark Liberty International Airport Flight Attendant Nicholas Villeneuve), "Traci E" (George Bush Intercontinental Airport Flight Attendant David Revils) and "Valerie BeDanza" (Newark Liberty International Airport Flight Attendant Hassan Salazar) to determine who had the best costume. The winner won a trip for two to anywhere domestically.
"This is what Pride is about," said Hassan. "It was so exciting seeing everyone at the brunch having fun. I've been so overwhelmed with the love, support and acceptance I've received from United. This Pride Month has been so special to me as I continue to grow as a Drag Queen and be who I am."
Chicago's Drag Queen Brunch comes the weekend after we hosted the first-ever airport Drag Queen Brunch at Newark in partnership with the Trevor Project and OTG Management.
"As a company, embracing the LGBTQ+ community is a priority so that our customers and employees feel welcomed," said Jill Kaplan, United's president for New York and New Jersey. "We were extremely proud to host the inaugural drag brunch in partnership with OTG at Newark Airport in celebration of pride, but equally as enthusiastic to support organizations like The Trevor Project who provide assistance for LGBTQ youth."
The Drag Queens, which included "Valerie" and Kennedy Davenport, star of RuPaul's Drag Race, danced down a makeshift runway at Newark's Terminal C, revving up the crowd of onlookers with their moves and songs as those at the brunch enjoyed delicacies from places like Mélange Bakery and sipped on "Taste the Rainbow" cocktails.
Over a million miles have been redeemed through eight MileagePlus Exclusives Pride experiences offered to members this year. MileagePlus will be donating all the miles redeemed to The Trevor Project. The brunch at Newark raised over $10,000 for The Trevor Project.
"It's fun enjoying each other and knowing that we have come far," said Hassan. "We're continuing to grow and accept one another and at the end of the day, that's all that matters. Drag or not, we're all the same."
In the midst of mobilizing our cargo operations, our teams at New York/Newark (EWR) and Jacksonville (JAX) stepped in to assist Roche Diagnostics with transporting a vital component for an instrument being used for COVID-19 testing.
The component was stuck at EWR en route to the Mayo Clinic in Florida after another airline's flights were cancelled. A Roche employee contacted us asking for help and, within a few hours, our teams had the piece loaded onto a Jacksonville-bound aircraft, with arrangements in place to deliver it to the Mayo Clinic.
The item we shipped will allow the Mayo Clinic in Florida to process hundreds of COVID-19 tests per day. Mayo Clinic Laboratories has been on the front lines of increasing testing capacity to expedite caring for patients at this critical time and working to ease the burden being felt at test processing laboratories in a growing number of areas.
We are going above and beyond to find creative ways to transport fresh food and produce, as well as basic essentials from the U.S. mainland to military and their families in Guam/Micronesia. On Saturday, March 28, we operated an exclusive cargo-only B777-300 charter to transport nearly 100,000 pounds of food essentials to Guam to support our troops.
In addition, we move mail year-round all over the world. In response to COVID-19, and in support of the military members and their families overseas, we implemented a charter network, transporting military mail to Frankfurt, which is then transported all over Europe and the Middle East. Since March 20, we have flown 30,000+ pounds of military mail every day between Chicago O'Hare (ORD) and Frankfurt (FRA). On the return flight from Frankfurt to Chicago, we have carried an average of 35,000 pounds of mail to help families stay connected.
"Connecting products and mail to people around the world is the United Cargo mission," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "Keeping our military families connected with the goods they need, and keeping them connected with loved ones to feel a sense of home, is of critical importance. As a company that has long supported our military families and veterans, our teams are proud to mobilize to lend a hand."
On average, we ship more than 1 billion pounds of cargo every year on behalf of domestic and international customers. For more information, visit unitedcargo.com.
To our customers,
I hope this note finds you and your loved ones healthy and well.
It is safe to say these past weeks have been among some of the most tumultuous and emotional that any of us can remember in our lifetimes. The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been felt by individuals and families, companies and communities, across the United States and around the world.
The response to this crisis has been extraordinary; as much for what it has required from our society as for what it has revealed of us as a people.
Far from causing division and discord, this crisis and the social distancing it has required, has allowed us to witness something profound and moving about ourselves: our fond and deeply felt wish to be connected with one another.
The role of connector is one we're privileged to play in the moments that matter most in your life – weddings and graduations, birthdays and business trips, events large and small – and it's that responsibility that motivates us most to get back to our regular service, as soon as possible.
That is why it is so important our government acted on a comprehensive relief act to ensure our airline – and our industry – are ready and able to serve you again when this crisis abates.
I want to relay to you, in as deeply personal a way I can, the heartfelt appreciation of my 100,000 United team members and their families for this vital public assistance to keep America and United flying for you.
This support will save jobs in our business and many others. And it allows us time to make decisions about the future of our airline to ensure that we can offer you the service you deserve and have come to expect as our customers.
While consumer demand has fallen, we have seen the need for our service and capabilities shifted. And, we've adapted to help meet those needs.
Right now, aircraft flying the United livery and insignia, flown by our aviation professionals, have been repurposed to deliver vital medical supplies and goods to some of the places that need it most. We're also using several of our idle widebody aircraft to use as dedicated charter cargo flights, at least 40 times per week, to transfer freight to and from U.S. locations as well as to key international business locations. At the same time, we are working in concert with the U.S. State Department to bring stranded Americans who are trying to return home back to their loved ones.
While much remains uncertain right now, one thing is for sure: this crisis will pass. Our nation and communities will recover and United will return to service you, our customers. When that happens, we want you to fly United with even greater pride because of the actions we took on behalf of our customers, our employees and everyone we serve.
Stay safe and be well,
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.