'Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are up'
Lillian Velez didn't even have time to notify her friends, neighbors or fellow employees that she was leaving Puerto Rico. She got a text from her cousin, Newark-based Flight Attendant Jana Albino, confirming there was room for Lillian and her daughter on United's humanitarian flight to the U.S., and within hours she gathered what she could, traveled two hours to San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico and boarded a flight to Newark.
Lillian was one of nearly 250 evacuees on Wednesday's flight, leaving their home behind after Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico devastated.
Lillian's home was severely flooded and forced her and her three-year-old daughter Lyanne to build a makeshift bed out of spared pillows and blankets on the floor of their second story so that they had a dry place to sleep at night. Away from the disaster and en route to safety, Lillian wept on board nonetheless, consumed with the feeling of guilt.
"I feel so very lucky to be on this flight, but there are so many people back home that are still in such dire need," said Lillian through tears. "I can't stop thinking about those left behind that are still struggling greatly."
Lillian's story is just one of many aboard this flight -- some traveling to the U.S. to temporarily stay with family members, others headed for the unknown, without anyone awaiting them upon arrival. All, however, shared the feeling of gratitude and great hope that they will eventually return to their beloved island.
The road to recovery will be grueling for all those impacted, and the journey to a full rebuild will be a long one for Puerto Rico. We are doing our part to help with that recovery process.
The same aircraft, a Boeing 777-300ER, carrying evacuees out of Puerto Rico also had an important mission earlier that day on its way into the island.
We flew 35,000 pounds of essential supplies and more than 300 first responders and skilled workers from all over the U.S. to the island, where they will volunteer working in various roles on rebuilding Puerto Rico.
"They've been absolutely devastated, so it's going to be amazing to go in and help," said Lelia Pipenger, a registered nurse (RN) at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital and a member of the RNRN, a national network of direct-care RNs that coordinates sending volunteer RNs to disaster-stricken areas.
On September 29, Lelia got the call that she might be needed for relief efforts in Puerto Rico, and five days later, without hesitation, Lelia boarded the flight headed to San Juan.
"There're going to be days that we'll just help clean up, other days we'll be providing nursing care, so it just depends on where they need us that day," she said. "We respond when we're needed, and we're so glad that United is able to help us get there."
"We're all incredibly inspired by the commitment that you all have made," announced Boston-based Flight Attendant Sara Nelson before landing at San Juan Airport. "So right here, on this flight, right now, I think we should all remember that this is exactly what America is. Thank you all. We are so proud of you, and we are so honored to fly with you."
Upon arrival, the volunteers were met with cheers as they deplaned and made their way to baggage claim. Our San Juan Airport team members also felt the great support from some Newark Airport customer service representatives, who came down to help with boarding evacuees out of San Juan, many of whom required wheelchair assistance.
"United has been so great with not only supporting our staffing, but also sending supplies, and that really helps us give essentials to employees so that their families can be ok and they can still come to work and take care of customers," said San Juan-based General Manager Orlando Cordova.
Despite the damage, Orlando is very impressed with the incredible commitment he's seen from the employees, and he said the team is focused on getting back on its feet, getting back to work and rebuilding the station.
"We're in this together," he said. "Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are up."
To see more heartfelt stories on our humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico, watch the reunion of a Puerto Rico evacuee and her daughter.
We know people are taking a second look at their travel plans right now. If you're scheduled to travel March 10 – May 31, 2020 and would like to change your plans, there is no fee to do so, regardless of when you purchased your ticket or where you're traveling. This is in addition to our previous waiver, which waives all change fees – domestic and international – for tickets purchased March 3 – April 30, 2020. This is available for any of United's published nonrefundable fares. If you decide to cancel your flight, you can retain the value of your ticket to be applied to a new ticket without a fee. These electronic travel certificates are now valid for 24 months from the date they were issued. This includes all currently valid electronic certificates and all new ones issued on or after April 1, 2020. You might not see this policy change reflected everywhere right away – we appreciate your patience as we work to make that happen.
Eligible travelers on domestic flights and international tickets can request a refund on united.com or may call our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to COVID-19.
Certain tickets cannot be changed on united.com or the mobile app, including tickets booked through another airline (if the ticket receipt does not begin with 016). Please contact the original ticketing airline for changes.
Follow the steps below to stay up to date, change or cancel your flight.
Change your current flight:
- On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your flight information to retrieve your flight.
- Select "Change flight" and then "Edit" to make the following changes:
- Date of travel or destination
- Add a flight
- Remove a flight
- Select "Continue" and choose a new flight option
- Continue through booking to confirm your new flight
Note: The change fee will display as waived, but any difference in fare may apply.
Cancel your flight and rebook later:
- On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your reservation information to retrieve your flight
- Select "Cancel flight"
- Confirm flight cancellation
- If you have future flight credit, when you return to the reservation, select "Use Future Flight Credit" to shop for new flights and apply the credit towards a new flight.
Canceling or changing an award flight:
When you select "Cancel flight," you will have the option to cancel your award reservation and redeposit the miles or to cancel your award reservation and use those miles for another trip in the future.
*We're currently experiencing heavy traffic to united.com. If you experience an error while trying to change or cancel your flight, please try again later.
Click through the slideshow below for more detailed instructions:
Start on the United homepage:
User can select 'My Trips' on the homepage widget to find and retrieve their reservation.
When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.
We have operated more than 68 repatriation flights from Panama City, Guatemala City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, bringing nearly 9,200 people home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles and beginning April 5, we will begin operating multiple charter flights between Delhi and San Francisco. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.
Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.
Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:
- Quito, Ecuador
- Managua, Nicaragua
- Roatan, Honduras
- San Pedro Sula, Honduras
- Seoul, South Korea
- Melbourne, Australia
We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.
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, a video conferencing tool 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).
- 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.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.