Percolating Peace through Illy's Colombian Coffee Farms - United Hub

Percolating peace through illy's Colombian coffee farms

By Matt Adams , April 30, 2018

This story appears in the September issue of Hemispheres

Our van lurched and rocked back and forth as we ascended farther and farther into the remote hills of western Colombia. On either side of the narrow washboard road, dense jungle stretched for miles. People sitting outside a cluster of small homes smiled at us in disbelief as we passed. They were accustomed to seeing motorbikes and horses -- not big, top-heavy touring vans -- that far up the mountain, in an area that was too dangerous for visitors just a few years ago.

Fernando spent years fighting for the FARC. Today, he is a successful coffee farmer and advocate for peace.

After nearly an hour of driving, we stopped at a promontory overlooking a humid, mist-covered valley and walked down to a cottage tucked away among plantain and papaya trees. We took a seat on the patio and waited for the arrival of Fernando, an ex-commander in the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the Marxist paramilitary organization that waged war against the Colombian government for more than fifty years. In his past life, he wouldn't have dreamed of talking to outsiders like us. But now he's part of a different kind of revolution, one in which coffee is at the center -- specifically, the illy coffee that United serves its customers every day, to the tune of more than 72 million cups a year.

When United announced its partnership with the Italian coffee giant this time last year, the news was met with excitement from the airline's customers and employees who had voiced their distaste for the previous brew. But there was more to the selection of illy than just great coffee.

For years, illy has had the reputation as a company that prioritizes people over profits. And while illy sources coffee from 25 countries across the globe, Colombia's Cauca departamento is a particularly interesting example of a place where that philosophy is making a difference.

Roughly a decade ago, Fernando negotiated a difficult and dangerous exit from the FARC. He was one of the fortunate ones; many of his comrades weren't allowed to walk away. Fernando's second in command was killed while attempting to leave the organization. Threats aside, there was also the looming question of how he would earn a living away from the only job he had known since he was a very young boy.

Landscape of the coffee fields in Colombia.

"When I was with the group, I began looking at the mountains and at the coffee growing on them, and it gave me the idea to change my life," he said. With backing from illy, he's been able to do just that, leading a farming cooperative made up of former guerillas who combine to produce more than 50,000 kilos of high-quality Arabica coffee each year, coffee that ends up at the illy roasting facility in Trieste, Italy, and, ultimately as a key component of the dark roast blend on board United's aircraft. But, as I had seen over the previous days in Colombia, Fernando's story was just one of many that illustrate the impact that United's choice of coffee has on the people who make up the front end of the supply chain.

On the first day of my week-long visit, I arrived in Cali, Colombia's third-largest city and the capital of Cauca, where I met Carlos Lopez and Oscar Lasso. Lopez is the director of ASCAFE (Colombian Small Coffee Growers Association), a cooperative in Cauca, and Lasso operates a tourism company based there. The two would act as guides for me and a group of foreign journalists as we visited small family farms where much of illy's Colombian coffee is grown. During the ride from the airport, Lasso and I passed the time by talking about the well-publicized troubles that have plagued his homeland for years, particularly narcotics.

To illustrate a point, he stretched his arms from his knees to his forehead. "Before, you could sell a bag of coffee this big for $10, and a one-pound bag of marijuana for $200. It was an easy choice for many people."

Among the goals of illy's business practices is to make that decision a harder one. An uncertain future in agriculture, due in part to falling coffee prices, forced many rural Colombians to cash in with illegal crops. Others took to the jungles to fight for the FARC, preferring an AK-47 and a steady paycheck to poverty. But with the guidance of local cooperatives like ASCAFE and the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), a national growers' advocacy organization, illy is committed to building economic, social and environmental sustainability by paying above fair value for beans that meet illy's high standards, supporting independent family farms, teaching eco-friendly growing methods and helping to weave together the fabric of a nation torn by half a century of war.

A fourth generation coffee grower, Lopez founded ASCAFE in 2004 and has worked diligently with companies like illy to, as he said, "To put producers in a better position to earn a better rate by changing the way that coffee is grown and sold." By forming the cooperative with his neighbors, Lopez found that they could have an influential voice and establish standardized growing practices to achieve the highest-quality yields, an area in which illy's expertise has been particularly valuable thanks to guidance from the company's agronomist. "One of our main goals is to recruit the brands to come to Colombia and bring their knowledge," said Lopez. "We don't want to just sell coffee, we want to build relationships with the people who buy from us."

One of the keys to changing the outlook for Colombia's coffee growers is laying that foundation at an early age. La Venta, one of Cauca's tiny farming villages, is a place where options for young people are limited. Roughly three out of a hundred will have the chance to attend university. Some might elect to move to a city like Cali to look for work. Others, like many of their parents, might be forced to find more illicit means of earning a living.

Coffee beans in a workers hands after being harvested from the fields.

Today, however, there are 55 schools in rural areas such as this that have adopted the so-called "Escuela y Café" curriculum, where students age 12 to 18 learn modern coffee production methods with assistance from illy, the FNC and ASCAFE. At La Venta's Efrain Orozco school, the children are mastering the art of growing thanks to a holistic approach. Each of their subjects -- Spanish, social studies, mathematics and natural sciences -- is tailored in such a way to teach them everything that a successful coffee farmer needs to know. In addition to their classroom work, they spend a portion of their days outdoors learning the different stages of cultivation, from planting the beans to harvesting them to preparing them for shipment to the end buyers. It's the kind of education that can enable them to bypass mere subsistence farming and build a viable, profitable business.

And as we witnessed with Fernando, illy is using its educational and purchasing power to do more than battle financial inequality; it is doing its part to further the cause of peace in war-torn Colombia. At a technological park we visited, 120 former FARC and other paramilitary commandos are learning to become independent coffee producers, growing beans that will eventually be sold to illy.

When we arrived, 30 of the ex-guerillas were in the middle of a three month long immersive introduction to coffee as a means of re-entering society. The park's open-air campus consisted of dormitories, classrooms and a microbiology lab where the men and women are studying the finer points of agronomy.

Worker drying the coffee in Colombia

Several of the participants were barely a year or two removed from being teenagers. Each of them was in the midst of a critical moment in his or her life, living under constant threat of violent retaliation for abandoning their brigades. While they felt a sense of purpose and security at the learning center, there was still uneasiness.

One of the men spoke to me on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. At age 23, he had spent 13-years as part of the FARC and had run away only 14 months prior.

When I asked him why he had joined up with the guerillas, his answer was the same as most of those whom we encountered: "Economico," he said with a shrug. He was soft spoken and shy, never looking me in the eyes as he talked. "My father left my mother and me and we needed money, so I had to do something to help. But after I saw the suffering, I regretted it. Now, I want a family, I want pride in my life and I want to have a future."

Each of them shared a similar desire to move on from the bloodshed of which they had been a part. Though physical and psychological scars are evident, they all expressed gratitude for the opportunity to live in peace. In many ways, they reminded me of the school children at Efrain Orozco, proud of their new skillsets and anxious to demonstrate what they had learned. They led us on a tour of the campus, showing us the processes for separating, sorting, washing and drying the coffee beans, and guided us through a quality test, with one of the men teaching us the proper way to use a glass pour-over brewer to sample the product. When I sipped from the mug he handed me, it was some of the best coffee I had ever tasted.

One of the workers showing the proper way to sample the coffee

After departing the technology park we headed to a nearby farm where we met several victims of FARC land mines who had come together to create their own coffee growing association. The group's director was formerly a rancher who was seriously injured while tending to his cattle. Another member, a man named Wilmer, had been a coca farmer. It was while walking home after deciding to leave the drug trade behind that he lost part of his leg. At one point, as a woman named Naomi talked of her nephew who was killed, Lasso became too overcome with emotion to translate for us, excusing himself. Finally, a guitarist stood up and played for us a haunting rendition of "Sobreviviendo" – Surviving.

…While someone
Proposes death on this earth
And makes weapons for war
I will tread these fields surviving
All against the danger, surviving
Sad and wandering men, surviving…

At the end of the week, we traveled to Medellín to attend the first-ever World Coffee Producers Forum. Growers from major coffee-producing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia descended upon the city to hear luminaries including former President Bill Clinton, current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs and illycaffè CEO Andrea Illy discuss the issues facing the coffee industry, such as climate change, stagnating prices and a volatile commodities market.

illycaff\u00e8 CEO Andrea Illy speaking at the World Coffee Producers Forum

"It would have been inconceivable to have a meeting like this in this place even a few years ago," President Clinton said, while speaking about how economic development through fair trade agriculture has helped countries like Colombia overcome their violent pasts. For years, Medellín and its namesake cartel led by Pablo Escobar represented the worst of Colombia. Those memories still make it one of the most beautiful places most foreigners wouldn't dream of visiting.

After dinner on my last night in Medellín, I caught a cab back to the hotel. Winding through the city in silence, my driver suddenly arched an eyebrow and looked at me through the rearview mirror as though he had a secret to tell. "Want to see Pablo Escobar's house?" he asked. We passed rows of nondescript mid-rise apartment buildings and storefronts, then turned into a short cul-de-sac that dead-ended into one of the former drug lord's compounds.

It was more bunker than home, all concrete walls and concertina wire. The fortress that a wealthy and dangerous man constructed for himself, now sitting in shambles on a darkened street.

Escobar died nearly 25 years ago, and with him, a low hum of fear that hovered over Colombia. In the weeks prior to my visit, more than 7,000 FARC guerillas had handed over their weapons to the government as part of a new disarmament deal, choosing a path of peaceful political dissent to armed conflict. It would seem the country is waking up from a long, grim nightmare. After talking with people there, I walked away feeling optimistic. During one of our conversations earlier in the week, Lasso confided that he felt the same way. After living abroad for 12 years, he was back, anxious to see stability taking root.

If it's morning in Colombia, then coffee is helping to provide much-needed clarity. As President Clinton said during a panel discussion at the forum, "When given the chance, most people will do the right thing. But they'll also do whatever it takes to feed their children." By paying farmers a decent wage and protecting growing areas from environmental decimation, United's partners at illy are offering Colombians a fourth alternative to hardship, drugs and violence. So, as you relax and enjoy your flight, have a cup of illy. You'll be doing your part to drink to a better future.

Weekend inspiration: Sydney

By Kelsey + Courtney Montague

Sydney continues to be one of our favorite cities in the world – vibrant, stunning, with an amazing foodie scene and genuinely nice people. Each year we try to schedule a few street art jobs in Australia so we can spend the Northern Hemisphere's winter in the summer sun of Australia. If you're in town for a few days, here are some of our favorite spots.

Friday evening

If you're looking for places to stay, we recommend anywhere near or on Sydney Harbour. If you can swing it financially, our two favorites are The Pier on Sydney Harbour and the Park Hyatt. Both are majestic hotels set out on the water with equally magnificent views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Steps up to the Opera House

Pasta at Kindred

We find that we crave comfort food after a long flight, and there's no better place to enjoy it than Kindred. It's a warm cozy space with pasta and bread made in-house. The lasagna and the burnt butter triangoli can't be beat, and be sure to order a loaf of homemade sourdough with dinner.

Saturday

Wake up early for a full day of exploring the city. Take a short cab or Uber ride to Lorraine's Patisserie – their croissants are warm and buttery and their coffee is strong.

The Rocks Market in Sydney

Kelsey's Magic Wand street art piece

After breakfast, head over to The Rocks Market where they have a stunning array of locally crafted art, jewelry, house ware and beauty products. The homey, cozy cobblestone lanes lead you to some of the best local artisans that Sydney has to offer. Be sure to also take a moment to pose with our Magic Wand street art piece on Atherdan Street.

We recommend The Glenmore Hotel's pub for lunch. This pub, built in 1921, has incredible views of the harbour from their rooftop. Grab one of their Australian Brewery Session IPA's, play a game of pool and end up on the roof with a Glenmore Burger in hand.

Following lunch, grab your swimsuit and take a 30-minute Uber to Bondi Beach – Sydney's most iconic beach. There's more to Bondi than just a beach, beyond is a village full of cafes, restaurants and shops worth exploring.

Bondi Beach, Sydney

Bring a towel and start off with a cold swim at the Instagram-worthy Icebergs Club swimming pool. When in need of some warmth, lay in the sun on the white sand beach while watching the surfers – you can even take surfing lessons if you'd like.

If you have time, there's a wonderful walk between Bondi and Coogee Beach. This walk takes you along the rocky coast to hidden beaches and swimming holes. It's a beautiful walk that will get your heart pumping.

For dinner walk up the hill to the trendy Bondi Trattoria for great local eats. If you're still awake when you get back to Sydney and looking for a drink, we highly recommend stopping by the Sydney Opera House Bar.

Sunday

Head over to Paramount Coffee Project to grab some caffeine and breakfast. Take a moment to check out the workout schedule for the recreation club on the roof to see if there is a class that interests you.

If you're looking to pet a wallaby or hold a quokka (quite possibly the cutest creature you have ever seen) we highly recommend signing up for the Featherdale Wildlife Park Mammal Encounter. It's about an hour drive from Sydney, but it's definitely worth it.

Featherdale Wildlife Park Mammal Encounter.

Sydney Harbour


When you get back to Sydney check out Ribs & Burgers on The Rocks for a hearty lunch. In the afternoon, check off two essential experiences by booking an Opera House Tour and, if you're not afraid of heights, the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb. Both offer stunning views and completely unique experiences.

After a somewhat exhausting day we love when we can come back to a hotel and dine there. Park Hyatt offers wonderful dining options, including The Dining Room, which is their signature restaurant. Finish your weekend with stunning harbour views and elegant food.

Trending

The reimagined United app: What you need to know

By The Hub team , January 22, 2019

Starting on January 24, customers will be able to access the updated United app. With useful enhancements that provide intuitive assistance every step of the way, the United app still includes the features you know and love. And now, thanks to dynamic messaging, the updated app provides useful information throughout your journey whether at the airport or on the go.

How to install the updated app

If you've enabled automatic updates, the United app will automatically update. Otherwise, you'll need to manually update the app to see the updated version. Once you've updated the app, you'll no longer be able to use the previous version. If your phone is set to auto-update, the app will automatically appear on your device and stay. Otherwise, you'll have the previous mobile experience until you manually update.

Dynamic messaging

The United app will now display the most useful and relevant information throughout your journey. For example, 24 hours before departure, the home screen on the United app will prompt you to check-in. Once checked in, an option to get your boarding pass will populate right on the home screen so you'll no longer need to access it via the boarding pass tab on the current version of the app.

Locating your boarding pass

If you're signed in to your MileagePlus® account, access to your boarding pass will appear on the app's home screen along with other details about the flight. If you're not signed in to a MileagePlus account, you'll need to go to "My Trips" on the bottom navigation bar. (Please note that mobile boarding passes are available for flights departing from all U.S. airports and select international airports.)

Accessing your profile and United Club℠ card

All this information will now be accessible from a "My Profile" section, so you can see everything in one place. You can find the "My Profile" section by selecting the icon of a person in the top right corner.

New options on the navigation bar

The new bottom navigation bar provides quick access to the most popular and helpful features. Find information about upcoming flights under the "My Trips" section that houses important information like your boarding passes and flight details. You'll also find an inbox icon section that stores important and useful information including gate changes, flight status updates and boarding alerts. You can also easily toggle back to your home screen from the bottom navigation bar.

Personal device entertainment

If personal device entertainment is offered on your flight, you'll see a tile titled Inflight Entertainment within the "Just for you" section on the home screen. The "Just for you" section will also give you access to other features such as how you can locate a United Club or how to earn award miles. You can also select "Wi-Fi & entertainment" from the More menu, located at the upper left hand of the app's home screen.

Finding the seat map

You can access the seat map for your flight via Flight Status on the bottom navigation bar or within Trip Details — when you have an upcoming flight there will be an option to view the seat map.

How to add or remove flights from your Flights Status list

Any upcoming flights will be displayed in the Flight Status section of the app. There is no option to remove a flight as the Flight Status section will be automatically update itself two days after your travel is completed.

Changing the image on the home screen

There is no way to change the image on your home screen manually. Instead, the image will update once a day based on the destinations most commonly searched for by our customers.

Amazing destination

Porto: Portugal’s surprising second city

By Bob Cooper

“Second cities" or those that rank #2 in population often surprise world travelers. And second doesn't mean second-rate. Porto is Portugal's second city — so off-the-radar that many world travelers haven't even heard of it. Yet, Porto and nearby spots in northern Portugal can be delightful destinations even if you don't visit the more well-known city of Lisbon.

Search flights

Old city by day

The best place to get oriented, as in most European cities, is in the old city center. Porto's Old City is so well-preserved that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 12th-century cathedral and the 15th-century Church of St. Francis, notable for interior wood carvings gilded by hundreds of pounds of gold, are mixed in with a rich collection of imposing granite, red-roofed Baroque buildings. Add 225 stairs and a stirring view to your walking tour by ascending the 250-foot-high Clérigos Church bell tower, built in 1754, which dominates the Porto skyline. Historic bridges over the Douro River and Soares dos Reis National Museum, an art museum housed in a palace, are also excellent sites to see.

Food and music by night

Porto's youthful population has turned it into a lively city after dark. You might start off the evening in the Old City at Abadia do Porto, a 1939 restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese dishes like roasted lamb and grilled octopus, or at Astoria, with its modern Portuguese fare served inside a former palace. Whether you choose a Portuguese, French or fusion restaurant, seafood is likely to be highlighted, drawing on Porto's proximity to the Atlantic and the Douro. Then, you can head to the large collection of bars and nightclubs in the nearby Galerias district, which includes Radio Bar, inside a former court building, and Gare, a disco in a tunnel that stays open until 6 a.m.

Head west to the beaches

The closest Atlantic beaches to central Porto are at Foz do Douro (mouth of the Douro), just 20 minutes away by city bus. But why settle? In a rental car you can explore Atlantic beaches and beach towns that extend for hundreds of miles along Portugal's coastline. Two of the best are Foz do Minho, the nation's northernmost oceanic beach that's just across the Minho River from Spain, and Quiaios, a dune-fringed paradise of sand south of Porto. Many beaches in northern Portugal are cradled in coves protected by rocky promontories, similar to northern California and Oregon beaches.

Or east to the wine country

The Douro Valley wine region is another World Heritage Site and one of the world's best and most scenic wine regions. It's up the Douro River from Porto by boat or 90 minutes by road. Namesake port wines and other fortified wines are the region's signature beverages, which can be sampled at tasting rooms on the Douro along N-222, a wine road that's been called the world's most scenic drive. While you're in the area, check out the wine and anthropology museums in the wine towns and yet another World Heritage Site — Coa Valley Archaeological Park — known for its prehistoric rock carvings.

The basics

Portugal's Mediterranean climate and coastal breezes bless it with mild weather year round, as the average temperature ranges from 57 degrees (and rain) in January to 78 degrees (and a little rain) in August. Whenever you come, there's no need to learn Portuguese as English is spoken even more widely than elsewhere in Western Europe. Once you arrive, rent a car only if you don't mind ridiculous drivers. The trains are more relaxing — light-rail and subway trains crisscross the Porto area and funicular cable cars climb its steepest hills. There's even a scenic train that follows the Douro nearly to Spain, with a roundtrip fare of only about $30.

Getting there

Portugal requires that visitor passports don't expire until at least three months after the arrival date, so check that. Next, buy some Euros (for a great exchange rate) and reserve a flight. United Airlines flies nonstop from New York/Newark to Porto and MileagePlus® award miles can be redeemed to cover accommodations and Hertz rentals. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.

Search flights
Contributor

United 787-10 Dreamliner launch

By The Hub team

Story was contributed by: Jennifer Lake | Photography: Alicia of Aesthetica

It was a typical Monday morning. I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking coffee, reviewing my to-do list for the week. All around me, heels are clacking through the office and phones ring intermittently. However, this particular Monday morning was different. Ultimately, I would receive an offer from my favorite airline for a collaboration to participate in the United 787-10 Dreamliner launch from Los Angeles LAX to New York/Newark EWR. Read the full story here featured on Style Charade.

Featured story

Fit for the runway: We begin testing new uniforms

By The Hub team , January 16, 2019

Last year we announced new partnerships with Tracy Reese, Brooks Brothers and Carhartt — best-in-class fashion and apparel designers — to help reimagine uniforms for more than 70,000 of our employees. Focusing on high quality fabrics, improved breathability and overall enhanced fit, our goal is to design and develop a more cohesive collection that looks good, feels good and enables employees to perform at their best on behalf of our customers.


United employees can learn more on the uniform designs by visiting Flying Together.

An insider's guide to Boston

By Betsy Mikel

Boston is a pack-it-all-in kind of place. Founded in 1630, one of America's oldest cities does many things well. Boston's many claims to fame include many of America's oldest historic landmarks and one of its oldest ballparks. It's a destination for history buffs, culture vultures, foodies, sports fans, families and more. No matter who your travel companions are or what they're interested in, everyone will find something to pique their interest in Beantown.

Getting there & around town

Fly direct to Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) from many U.S. cities — visit united.com or use the United app to book your flight. Flights are 90 minutes from New York, two hours from Cleveland and five to six hours from California. From Logan International Airport, it's easy to hail a taxi, use ridesharing apps or take public transportation. If you want to take the scenic route, take a water taxi across Boston Harbor directly into downtown.

Downtown Boston is easy to navigate. It's walkable and taxis are plentiful. The MBTA, Boston's public transportation system, offers affordable access to Cambridge, many attractions and the suburbs. Keep in mind it's one of the oldest transportation systems in the country, so expect a few bumps. Because the city is dense, parking can be expensive or hard to find, so avoid driving if you can.

When to visit

Summer and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Summer is prime time to enjoy Boston's many parks, outdoor eateries, open-air concerts and baseball games at Fenway Park. Mild fall weather, beautiful autumn foliage and Halloween festivities in nearby Salem, Massachusetts make October one of Boston's busiest months. The city also sees an influx of visitors for the Boston Marathon in April. You'll find smaller crowds and more affordable prices in winter, but brace yourself for the cold.

What to do

There's so much to take in just by walking through Boston's cobblestoned streets. Downtown is quaint, compact and easy to explore by foot. The small city is packed with historic sites, New England's finest food, proud sports fans and friendly locals.

As the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston's historic sites are an attraction in themselves. Walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to visit 16 of them around the city, including Revolutionary-era museums, churches, buildings and an impressive warship. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is on the trail, too, and is one of Boston's top attractions, with plentiful shopping, dining and live music. Not much of a walker? Boston Duck Tours operate land-and-water historic tours on World War II-inspired vehicles, which transform from truck to boat mid-tour.

Many museums and sites are tucked along Boston Harbor. The waterfront is always bustling with activity year-round. The harborwalk is the perfect place to meander and explore without a strict agenda. Plan to visit a major attraction or two, but leave time to enjoy the scenery or to pop into a café for a coffee and sweet treat (award-winning Flour Bakery + Cafe is a local favorite).

Deemed the “Athens of America," Boston boasts not only some of the country's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings, but also a thriving arts and culture scene. You could spend your entire trip touring its dozens of world-class museums. Take in classical music at the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra, or take a leisurely stroll through Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, the city's most well-known public parks. Riding the giant Swan Boats through the Public Garden lagoon is a kitschy, yet delightful experience, especially for kids.

What to eat

What must you absolutely eat in Boston? In short, everything. Long ago the city was nicknamed Beantown, allegedly after slow-cooked molasses baked beans served to sailors and traders. Today, Boston continues its reputation as a great eating city. From clam chowder to cannoli, the most popular dishes here are often hearty and decadent. Boston is also known for fresh lobster rolls, roast beef sandwiches and, of course, Boston cream pie.

Ask any Bostonian where to find “the best" of anything, and everyone will recommend a different spot. Cannoli from Mike's Pastry, Boston cream pie from Omni Parker House (where it was invented) and the roast beef 1000 sandwich from Cutty's frequently top the must-try lists. If you make it to a ball game at Fenway Park, Fenway Franks are a Boston staple.

Featured story

Our role in ‘Spider-Man™: Far From Home’

By Matt Adams , January 15, 2019

In Columbia Pictures upcoming release in association with Marvel Studios, "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," our web-slinging hero finds himself – yep, you guessed it – far from his home in New York City. And since flying is one of the few superpowers Spider-Man doesn't possess, we gave him a little help, meaning United is featured in the film.

The scenes of Peter Parker and his pals traveling to Europe take place on one of our Boeing 777s with the all-new United Polaris® business class, and several of our employees – including members of our Tech Ops, Inflight, Flight Operations and Airport Operations teams – served as actors and production support during shoots at New York/Newark (EWR) and London-Stansted (STN).

London-Heathrow (LHR) Customer Service Representative Manjit Heer and LHR Cargo Warehouse Operations Manager Richard Miller were background extras on board, and multiple flight attendants had a role, including San Francisco (SFO) Flight Attendant Tammy Harris.

"It was extremely surreal," said Tammy. "I was in my element because I was on the plane in uniform, but not really, because I'm not an actor."

Tammy said she hit her mark and delivered her line with gusto, and she's excited to see if she made the final cut when "Spider-Man™: Far From Home" hits worldwide theaters this summer.

"Hopefully, I'll have my two seconds of fame and all will be well," she joked.

Los Angeles (LAX) Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor Fernando Melendez is a veteran of several film shoots but said this one was his favorite. When the production went to London, he was one of five members of LAX Tech Ops who went over to look after our airplane and make adjustments to its interior based on the filmmaker's needs.

"When we parked the plane at Stanstead, there were lights and cameras surrounding us. It was like the plane was the star of the movie," he said. "Each day, we would work with the assistant director; he would go through and say, 'Okay, for this shoot we need these seats, or these panels removed,' so they could get the camera angles. Pretty much, the airplane was our responsibility; we opened it in the morning and closed it at night. We were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every day."

Fernando said the actors were all very gracious and engaging, and said the whole experience was fantastic from start to finish. It also earned him a little cooler cred with his 18-year-old son, who is a massive Marvel fan.

Leading up to the film's premiere this year, there will be plenty of ways for employees and customers to get into the Spidey spirit in anticipation of our cameo. Stay tuned for more details.

---

Peter Parker returns in "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," the next chapter of the Spider-Man™: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter's plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!

Directed by Jon Watts, the film is written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film is produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Thomas M. Hammel, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Stan Lee, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach serve as executive producers. The film stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.

"Spider-Man™: Far From Home" makes its way to North American theaters on July 5, 2019.

What to expect from our improved app

By United Airlines , January 15, 2019


"Talking Points," host Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, is joined by Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer at United Airlines to discuss what passengers can expect from our improved app.

Read more about the improvements to the United app here.

Scroll to top