Miraculous family reunion at LAX
Connecting people. Uniting the world. These are the core values with which we operate our airline. And at the center of those ideals is you, our customers. Follow along each week as we share stories of employees who are putting our values into action, showing the people who fly with us what world-class service truly means.
It was July 21, just before midnight, and United Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Operations Supervisor Arturo (Art) Martinez's shift was winding down. On most nights, by 2:00 a.m. he'd be heading home for a well-deserved rest. But not that day. Instead, Art was about to play an important role in turning one customer's travel nightmare into a story of compassion and perseverance.
Hsiu-Chun Chang and her sister Hsiu-Mei were waiting for their flight to Houston in Terminal 8. It would be the third leg of a long, four-segment journey that was to take them from Taiwan to Belize, where they now live. But that was the last thing on Hsiu-Chun's mind as she sat at the gate: Her sister, who suffers from dementia and short-term memory loss, hadn't returned from a trip to the restroom and was nowhere to be found, and Hsiu-Chun was beginning to panic. To complicate matters, the sisters didn't speak English, further hindering Hsiu-Chun's ability to communicate with most airport employees.
The look on her face, however, transcended language, and our gate agents were soon able to determine what had happened. The team, which included Art, United Customer Service Representatives Lyz Munoz, Marlene Bowers and Patricie Plickova and Hub Operations Area Manager Mary Mason, contacted airport police and organized search parties around the airport to look for the missing Ms. Chang. Throughout it all, Art stayed close to Hsiu-Chun, providing her with the kind of emotional support and comfort that broke through the communication barrier.
"He has a heart as big as the Empire State Building," Mary Mason said about Art. "He truly cares about the customers. He was so concerned about the distressed sister who was waiting at the gate. We tried to persuade her to go to a hotel, and we were going to take care of her, but she didn't want to leave until her sister was found. Art did everything in his power to make her as comfortable as possible, giving her pillows and blankets and water, and just sitting with her."
Finally, hours after his shift was scheduled to end, an exhausted Art went home. Before he did, he made sure to communicate the situation to incoming employees so that the search could continue. He also stayed in constant contact with Hsiu-Chun's son, Tom Guu, who was traveling from Houston to care for his mother and assist in finding his aunt.
By that point, the Los Angeles Police Department had filed a missing persons report, and officers were looking outside the airport for Hsiu-Mei. Twelve hours after disappearing, she was found in Redondo Beach, nearly 10 miles from Los Angeles International Airport and reunited with her family shortly thereafter.
"The first thing that Art did when his eyes opened the next morning was call and ask for an update," said Mary. "His heart, his caring, his sensitivity and empathy – it was all evident in the way he made sure he did everything in his power to help that family."
Hsiu-Chun's son, Tom, sent us a letter expressing the family's immense gratitude to our employees.
"I am writing to commend the extraordinary job done by the United Airlines team at Los Angeles International Airport," Tom wrote. "What the United leadership teams and staff were able to do for my family is truly phenomenal, and we deeply appreciate all of your effort." He concluded his letter by saying, "Thank you so very much for your care, hospitality and superb customer service. The United Airlines team at Los Angeles Airport is remarkable."
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.