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."
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."
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.
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.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, video conferencing tools that many people are using to stay connected.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).
To use on Zoom:
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
- Start by downloading your favorite United image to your computer. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- C:\[insert your device user name here]\AppData\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads
- If you're using a Mac copy the images to this folder on your computer:
- /users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds/Uploads
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- Once you start a Teams meeting, click the "…" in the menu bar and select "Show background effects" and your image should be there
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This is the story of Jason and Shantel. You see, Jason and Shantel love each other very much. They also love traveling and they love the classic Adam Sandler film, The Wedding Singer.
It all began when Jason reached out to United's social media team, hoping for assistance with his upcoming plan to propose. Some phone calls and one borrowed guitar later, the stage was set for Jason. Put all that together, mix in some helpful United employees and, voila, you have a truly memorable marriage proposal. Congratulations to this fun-loving and happy couple, and here's to many more years of making beautiful music together.
A big thank you to Chicago-based flight attendants Donna W., Marie M., Karen J. and Mark K. for making this proposal come to life.