'Round the world with Star Alliance
Celebrating 20 years of Star Alliance connecting the globe
It happened 20 years ago, but David Lipsey remembers it like it was yesterday. August 9, 1997. His wife Dianne's birthday party. He had a surprise for her, one that was sure to make any gift that came before it, or any that would come after it, pale in comparison.
That evening, David led a blindfolded Dianne into the living room of their home in McLean, Virginia, and placed a set of flags attached to a pin into her hand. He helped her spin around a few times for effect, took her gently by the arm and aimed her toward a framed map of the world that had been placed on an easel. Dianne made her way gingerly toward it, the sharp end of the pin feeling around the empty space in front of her, unaware of the wonders that awaited.
Several days prior, David had received a phone call from the senior vice president of marketing at United Airlines with an incredible offer: Two tickets for him and a companion for a round-the-world voyage anywhere that a Star Alliance partner airline flew.
It was the grand prize in a drawing that David had entered as part of the first-ever promotion for the newly established Star Alliance – celebrating its 20th anniversary this year – of which United is a founding member. While he remembered registering his name, in the face of such a reality as winning, he found the news hard to believe.
"At first I was more than a bit skeptical," he recalled, "but after politely hanging up twice and getting two calls back, it finally dawned on me that it actually had happened. It was like being given a magic carpet ride."
Like Charlie Bucket unwrapping the golden ticket, suddenly the Lipseys' wildest dreams were within reach. A poker-faced David managed to keep his excitement a secret until Dianne's birthday, when he sprang it on her in the form of the aforementioned symbolic pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game.
"We decided that we would go nowhere easy," David said. "We each took a piece of paper and wrote down a place we wanted to see. Dianne picked Nepal, and I had always wanted to visit Cambodia. We had close friends living in Egypt, so that was an easy addition. In the end, we built the trip around those three stops."
The two seasoned travelers wanted to use the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with other cultures on deep level. For the next year, David and Dianne immersed themselves in the art, culture and history of their selected destinations. They studied with the curator of Southeast Asian art at Washington, D.C.'s Sackler Museum in preparation for their Asian stops and located guides, fixers and professional itinerary planners to help them navigate the other out-of-the-way locales where they would soon find themselves.
They also commissioned a series of small, glass globes from artist Josh Simpson, each one inscribed with the words "D and D go around the world, XI/XII 1998," with the plan to leave them in the distant places that called to them, hidden away for future discovery by other seekers.
In November 1998, they departed Washington-Dulles International Airport on a United 747 for the first leg, destined for Cairo, Egypt. Over the next two months, they would go from Cairo (with a side trek into Syria) to Hong Kong to Phuket, Thailand, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, back to Bangkok, Thailand, to Katmandu, Nepal, ending in Auckland, New Zealand, before returning to McLean.
"So – what was the best part?" It's the question David and Dianne have fielded more than any other over the past two decades. David answered me philosophically, reflecting on the virtues of each place and looking at the entire trip as a series of revelations.
He described touring the Egyptian desert with a Bedouin guide, stopping at St. Anthony's, a Coptic monastery, where an English-speaking monk talked with them about the spiritual illumination that travel begets. Similarly, at a Buddhist temple in northern Thailand, a priest took David and Dianne aside and, without knowing who they were or why they were there, spoke of the blessings that accompany wanderlust.
In Nepal, they trekked the Himalayas in search of a place where all roads end. In Hong Kong, they searched out fortune-tellers and traditional healers at a centuries old Chinese healing complex. Finally, David and Dianne spent the last few days of December 1998 at a hillside resort near Auckland. "The last week was a week of recovery and reflection," he said, "and of being in awe of what we had seen and done over the past two months. We landed back in Washington, D.C., on New Year's Eve; what a way to end one year and start a new one."
To this day, David credits United for giving him and Dianne the gift of stories that still draw a crowd at any cocktail party, and he's happy to tip his hat to the airline's employees whenever he gets the chance.
"I never get on airplane without saying thank you to the staff taking care of me. I think this trip helped me understand the complexities of travel, and I never underestimate that."
In the years since their landmark trip, David and Dianne have continued to travel extensively, exceeding 100,000 miles annually and remaining loyal to United and its Star Alliance partners. And the wisdom earned on their around-the-world adventure still guides them.
"That trip was something that you reflect upon for the rest of your life," David said. "It reinforced in me the desire to always keep looking and to try to create an ongoing conversation with the world around me."
Maybe, like David and Dianne, your wandering spirit is in search of something more than the average getaway. If so, Star Alliance offers its "Round the World Fare," with access to 1,300 destinations in 191 countries. Visit the site and begin building your own adventure.
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.