Three Perfect Days: London
Story by Chris Wright | Photography by Tom Parker | Hemispheres, April 2018
Every city has its intriguing juxtapositions—the trendy cocktail bar overlooking the crumbling palace, the high-end fashion boutique next to the hardware store—and every city works to find a suitable blend of these things. London, however, is a little bit different. There has always been a mix-and-match quality to this place, which is not so much a city as a patchwork of villages. While Londoners do value their traditions and institutions, they are also restless, preoccupied with novelty and change. As a result, the city is constantly sticking new bits onto the old, very often without any discernible logic, creating a jumble of styles and sensibilities that can leave visitors feeling utterly confused. How do you make sense of the chaos? You don't. Rather, you adopt the organizing principle of the city as a whole: Get out there, give it a go, see what happens.
Skipping and sipping around stylish SohoThe odd thing about waking up at the Ham Yard Hotel is that your room tends to be more dreamlike than your dreams.Tucked away in a courtyard in Soho, central London, the property is one of the latest projects from exuberant British designer Kit Kemp, and she has gone full-on March Hare with this one: life-size crocodile sculptures applied to an expanse of butterfly-print wallpaper; a 20-foot spiral of cascading oranges in the basement bar. The arrival of the Ham Yard, in turn, speaks to the ongoing transformation of this neighborhood, which used to be a place of burlesque shows and boho boozers, and which today, it seems, cannot go a week without someone opening a hot new shop, restaurant, or drinking establishment.
The Bar at the Ham Yard Hotel
I have plans to explore the neighborhood later, but first I want to take a look at an even more surreal example of interior design. So, after a hasty breakfast—chili beans on granary toast, served with chorizo and Greek yogurt, eaten below a cluster of mismatched light fixtures—I head off toward Holborn, home to Sir John Soane's Museum.
Soane, a distinguished 19th-century architect, had a hoarding problem. Luckily, he tended to hoard things like statues and paintings rather than receipts. Today, his former home is packed to the rafters with so many marvelous antiquities it makes your head spin. I particularly enjoy the candlelit crypt, which has an ancient sarcophagus and a set of rusty manacles on the wall—although the Canaletto upstairs isn't bad either.
From here, I head south, past the Gothic Royal Courts of Justice, to Temple Church, built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar. Inside are effigies of these knights, many bearing the scars of a World War II bombing, which also scattered the bones buried below. (When I ask an attendant where I can find the remains of über-knight William Marshal, he replies, pointing: “There, there, and there.")
My next stop is Piccadilly Circus and the nearby Dover Street Market, a multi-story emporium selling high-concept clothing via art-installation floor displays. It's a must-visit for anyone interested in being the least fashionable person within a 200-yard radius. The shop is also within sashaying distance of the place I'm having lunch: Ikoyi, a new West African–inspired eatery that's been getting rave reviews.
After the visual excess of Dover Street, the interior of Ikoyi seems almost stark. The food, though, is sensational, not to mention eye-wateringly spicy. To start, I have dambu nama (dried beef floss) and whipped bone-marrow tarts, followed by succulent grilled octopus with ndolé (stewed greens with nuts). Now and then, the chef pops up to explain to a diner what banga is, or moin moin, which gives the meal a theatrical feel.
"The French House has two rules: Beer comes in half-pints, and no being boring."
From here it's on to The French House, a storied pub in the heart of Soho. You could fill a book with the notable people who have drunk here: Brendan Behan, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Salvador Dalí. Charles de Gaulle is said to have written his wartime rallying cry on the premises, while Dylan Thomas reportedly mislaid his manuscript for Under Milk Wood here in 1953. One of the regulars now is Russell Norman, a restaurateur, author, and TV personality who has been called “The King of Soho."
“The French House is probably the last remaining drinking hole that connects directly with the heyday of Soho," he says. “It's eccentric, it's authentic, and I love it."
The entrance to Warren Mews, in Fitzrovia
There are a couple of rules here: They sell beer only by the half-pint, and patrons are not allowed to be boring (said to be “a bannable offense"). So it's with some trepidation that I strike up conversation with Lesley Lewis, the pub's garrulous landlady, who is sitting at the bar with a white wine.
Lewis took over the French House in 1989—one of only three owners in a hundred years—and did not set about trying to jazz things up. “We've tried to keep the essence," she says, taking a sip of wine. “Everything is changing so fast around here. There's not many old-school places left." Another sip. “But I still believe in Soho." Sip. “You have to be positive about what is rising out of the ruins."
Things liven up when the anecdotes start, the best of which belongs to Lewis: “There was a guy named Billy, who owned a [burlesque] club. One day, the council told him he had to black out the windows, so he's standing on the street outside with a tin of paint when Francis Bacon comes by and offers to help. That was Billy's only claim to fame. He'd go around telling people, 'I have an original Francis Bacon.'"
"There aren't many old-school places left. You have to be positive about what is rising out of the ruins."
Leaving The French House, I follow Norman up Compton Street—“The main river running through Soho"—for a caffeine boost at Bar Termini. A stylish coffee shop/cocktail bar located in a former strip club, Termini is owned by one of Britain's most famous mixologists, Tony Conigliaro, a lapsed artist who describes his job as “painting with flavor." He's certainly adventurous—one of his cocktails is infused with clay, flint, and lichen to evoke the taste of the earth. A more recent creation is a drink he calls Snow. “The premise is, wouldn't it be amazing if we could recreate the experience of catching a snowflake on your tongue?" he says. “That took two years to work out."
I'm catching a show later, so, after a bit of people-watching and boutique-browsing, I head for an early dinner at Kettner's Townhouse, which was founded in the 19th century by a man who was rumored to be a former chef to Napoleon III and has entertained the likes of Oscar Wilde, Agatha Christie, and Robert De Niro. This year, it was refurbished and reopened as a hotel and restaurant by the people behind the achingly fashionable Soho House members club. The restaurant has more or less kept the feel of the original: a tinkling piano near the entrance, thin candles on the tables. I order rillettes of rabbit with pickled radishes, followed by a vol-au-vent of kidneys, sweetbreads, black truffles, and baby carrots. It's a fine meal, but the real star here is the place's see-and-be-seen energy. Speaking of which…
Neal's Yard, a colorful bohemian alley in Covent Garden
A quick hop west takes me to the Apollo Theatre, which is running the hit musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie, a coming-of-age story about a schoolboy who longs to become a drag queen—basically, Billy Elliot in heels. It's a charming, lively production that has people grinning and bobbing in their seats.
I end the night at the Rosewood London's jazz bar, Scarfes, named for satirical cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, whose creations decorate the walls. While there's a clubby refinement to the place—high ceilings, low lighting, antique books—the atmosphere is far from stuffy. I take an armchair in a shadowy corner and attempt to read the menu. The cocktails are named after celebrities the bar's namesake has lampooned; I summon the waiter, point at a sketch of Alfred Hitchcock, and say I'll have one of those. The drink, a tequila-based concoction called A Bird in the Hand (get it?), comes topped with a bird's nest. It looks cozy.
An hour or so later, I'm in my room at the Ham Yard, gazing at the tailor's dummy standing near the gray-green striped wall, the forest-scene fabric on the headboard, the small monkey riding a unicycle across the carpet. In fairness, that final touch may have happened after I fell asleep.
Perusing the posh shops and restaurants of Chelsea and Notting Hill
Certainly, there was nothing like Chel-Ski back then. Situated in a former warehouse for the Christopher Wray interiors store, this indoor ski center was opened a few years ago by Wray's son, Ben. So it is I find myself, before breakfast, slaloming on a huge lubricated treadmill. The velocity and gradient are adjusted according to the ability of the skier. For me, the instructor keeps the dial on "Nervous Baby," but I still emit a succession of noises that call to mind Johnny Rotten's debut gig at the Roebuck pub, circa 1975.
Brunch is a more sedate affair, in a plant-filled atrium in the popular Ivy Chelsea Garden, where I have a juicy rib eye, seated across from the impeccable Olivia Newman-Young, who has agreed to show me around the neighborhood. A makeup artist and onetime cast member of the reality show Made in Chelsea, Newman-Young has a pedigree such that even the chillingly exclusive nightclub Raffles doesn't faze her. "It's meant to be members-only," she says, barely looking up from her tuna carpaccio, "but you can get in if you're the right kind of person."
"As well as being a playground for punks and princesses, the Kings Road has long served as a catwalk for local kooks."
With this, she leads me along the Kings Road, pointing out stuff she likes along the way—The Kooples for fashion, the Bluebird (“obviously") for food. She's been going out here since her teens and recalls many a fun night at places like Jak's Bar, “where all the posh kids go to let loose." As well as being a playground for punks and princesses, the Kings Road has long served as a catwalk for local kooks. “I love the Chelsea grandmas, wearing the clothes of a 20-year-old and looking fabulous," Newman-Young says. “You don't get that in Shoreditch."
An antiques shop on Portobello Road
I leave Newman-Young at Sloane Square and head into the Saatchi Gallery, which is housed in a grand 19th-century building and puts on exhibitions that skew heavily toward the inscrutable. The first thing I see upon entering is a huge canvas by Los Angeles–based English painter Danny Fox, a naïve depiction of two seated women titled Planned Parenthood Waiting Room. It has a touch of Gauguin to it, but also a touch of off-kilter dilettante. Very Saatchi.
Wandering toward Kensington, I come across The Map House, a treasure trove that has counted Winston Churchill and Ernest Shackleton among its customers. One wall contains a 19th-century “Poverty Map of London" with a color-coded index ranging from yellow (“wealthy") to black (“vicious, semi-criminal"). Nearby is a 17th-century map of the world—which, the dignified store clerk informs me, is valued at £950,000. I ask how long it has been hanging there, and he gives me a thin smile: “A while."
If it's an impulse buy you're after, you may be better off at the nearby Conran Shop, a colorful lifestyle showroom established by one of Britain's most influential designers, Sir Terence Conran. The store is located in the Michelin House, a tiled-and-domed Art Nouveau masterpiece that was built as the tire company's British headquarters in 1911.
In the same building is another celebrated Conran enterprise, Bibendum. Opened three decades ago and recently relaunched with French master Claude Bosi at the helm, the restaurant has already earned two Michelin stars. However, I opt to eat downstairs, in the building's old forecourt, at the Bibendum Oyster Bar, a less formal space with intricate tilework and a menu that makes you eat like a whale (I get a seafood platter over-flowing with fresh crab, oysters, shrimp, and cockles).
Next, I head to the new Harry's Dolce Vita, which looks like a bar from a 1930s railway station and has a staff that greets you like a long-lost friend. As I scan the menu, a white-coated bartender suggests I try an Infinite Negroni, explaining that the ingredients are determined by rolling three dice—one for the type of gin, one for the vermouth, and one for the aperitivo. “It is a gamble," the bartender says, deadpan. I roll the dice (Occitan London Dry, Bordiga, Aperol), raise my glass to a photo of Sophia Loren, and take a sip. We have a winner!
The Design Museum
A quick cab ride takes me to the Design Museum, which opened its new Kensington home to great fanfare in 2016. The museum pays homage to high design (there's a Ferrari exhibition on when I visit), but the real joy is in the everyday objects—telephones and turntables, computers and cameras—that have become redundant in terms of function but have been saved from the trash heap thanks to their being easy on the eye.
Next, I cut through Holland Park, whose narrow pathways crisscross thick woodland, creating the illusion that you're in the countryside—until you come across the refined Japanese garden, or the remnants of a Jacobean mansion, or one of the many peacocks roaming around. Emerging from the park's northern end, I head up toward Notting Hill, stopping to ogle a gorgeous aqua-marine overcoat at Paul Smith Westbourne House, then hit Portobello Road, which on the weekends is a carnival of musicians, antiques stalls, and street food vendors, and is also home to scores of trendy shops, restaurants, and bars.
"Portobello Road on the weekends is a carnival of musicians, antiques stalls, and street food vendors."
For a pre-prandial drink, I've opted for Trailer Happiness, a quirky basement tiki joint that's become a local institution. I sit at the bar and order a Hell in the Pacific, a sweet and alarmingly potent rum drink that, the bartender tells me, will pick me up. “Or knock you down," says the Irish guy next to me.
Dinner is at 108 Garage, a refurbished auto shop with industrial-chic decor that's offset by a large portrait of Henry the Pious. Chef Chris Denney, a onetime art student and pot washer, opened this spot along with his colorful business partner, Luca Longobardi, in 2016, with little money and almost no advance publicity. Yet, within a few months, 108 Garage had emerged as one of London's hottest eateries (it claimed Tatler's Restaurant of the Year prize for 2018) and Denney as one of its hottest chefs.
Tonight, Denney works the kitchen as if playing an extended game of whack-a-mole. I sit at the counter, trying to keep up with the hail of dishes placed before me: hogget loin with a lamb-tongue lollipop; crispy pig head with wild watercress; octopus with black garlic, kohlrabi, and harissa. It's a bold, creative meal, but Denney is not one of those chefs who see themselves as the star of the show. “I know it sounds corny, but it's the farmer who does all the work," he says. “We just send the produce on its merry way the best we can."
Bivalves at the Bibendum Oyster Bar
Flagging, I head out for Mayfair and The Connaught, one of the loveliest hotels in London, where I'm met in my lavish suite by James, the butler. I tell him I'd like to check out the famous Connaught Bar before turning in, and he offers to show me the way. I decline but tell him I might need someone to guide me back to my room afterward, a weak gag that elicits a big laugh. Now that's what I call service.
I start the day in Chelsea, at the western end of the Kings Road, contemplating a morning on the slopes. Forty-odd years ago, not far from where I'm standing now, a rabble of proto-punks started milling around a tiny boutique run by a designer named Vivienne Westwood. The World's End shop is still there, its storefront clock spinning backward, but little else remains to remind us that the swanky Kings Road was the birthplace of the Sex Pistols.
Getting hip in East London
Today's adventure starts in Shoreditch, an East London industrial area that most people used to avoid but which now boasts the densest concentration of street art and flamboyant facial hair in the city. I exit the Old Street Tube station amid a stream of coffee-clutching humanity—employees, for the most part, of the many tech firms that have set up shop around what is now called Silicon Roundabout.
For breakfast, I pop into Passo, a new venture from the Goodlife Projects, the outfit behind London crowd-pleasers like Love Brunch, Foley's, and Rum Kitchen (a reputed favorite of Prince Harry). Billed as “contemporary LA-inspired Italian," it's a bright, airy restaurant with huge wicker lampshades and soft reggae on the sound system. I order Passo's spin on the Full English: poached eggs, Italian sausage, pancetta, tomato, mushroom, baked borlotti beans. It's a hugely fulfilling meal, but it's going to play havoc with my skinny jeans.
"East London boasts the densest concentration of flamboyant facial hair in the city."
There's time for a coffee at the nearby Strongroom Bar & Kitchen, which is now in its 20th year and has an interior adorned with original works by Jamie Reid, the artist who designed the cover for Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.
Recharged, I keep on toward Brick Lane, which is known for having some of the best curry houses and bagel shops in town, along with a bunch of very cool galleries and shops. The centerpiece is the Old Truman Brewery, a complex of restaurants, bars, and indie retailers, including the Vintage Market, a subterranean warren of multicolored boots, psychedelic shirts, leopard-print skirts, sloganeering T-shirts, and floppy felt hats.
I could spend all day down there, but I have lunch booked at Red Rooster, so I unwind the feather boa from my neck and point myself back in the direction of Shoreditch. An offshoot of Marcus Samuelsson's beloved Harlem soul-food eatery, Red Rooster is located in The Curtain, a hip new hotel with street-style art on the walls, a heated pool on the roof, and a dogsitting service for jet-setting pups.
Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster
The restaurant's interior is an artful clutter of mismatched furniture and playful signage presided over by an unflaggingly cheerful wait staff. I order the B.E.C. Biscuit to start (with pork belly, egg, and parmesan), followed by the Fried Yard Bird, crisped to perfection and served with yams, hot honey, collards, and green beans. After a meal like that, a man should really undo his trouser button and go sit on a porch. But I'm going to go get my hair cut in a pub.
The Gunmakers, in nearby Clerkenwell, has a lot going for it: great beer, delicious food. It also has a tiny hairdressing studio in the attic. Sipping a Banana Boulevardier (bourbon and banana liqueur), I ask the owner, Tim, to give me something a little different—buzzed at the sides, shaggy on top—after which the talk turns to the collision of barbering and booze, and whether this is a good idea. “If someone comes in a little drunk and asks me to do something dramatic," he says, “I might suggest they come back another time." That said, he gives me the 'do I asked for, and everyone's happy.
From here I stroll over to Farringdon, another area that has seen a slew of hip openings in recent years. I pop into Fergus Henderson's nose-to-tail eatery, St. John, near the historic Smithfield meat market, for a cup of tea with Max Fraser, a consultant for the London Design Festival and author of several books on the subject. A local, he has offered to show me around the area.
The sundial in Covent Garden's Seven Dials
“London has so many layers," he says, nodding at the restaurant window. “Just outside here they used to march the cattle into Smithfield, then sold them upstairs. This restaurant is built under a smokehouse. The city moves on." So do we: to The Charterhouse, a complex of buildings dating back to the 14th century. “Charterhouse is built on a plague pit," Fraser says, pointing at a patch of grass. “Now there's a Crossrail station being built here. Imagine what they found!"
From The Charterhouse, we walk past the Fox & Anchor pub, where the doors open at 7 a.m. on weekdays to accommodate the Smithfield porters who have been drinking here for generations, then make our way to St Bartholomew the Great, which was founded in 1123 and today stands as one of the finest Norman churches in England. Inside, amid the pitted pillars and Romanesque arches, is a fresh, eye-catching addition: a gilded statue of a man holding a scalpel and a pair of scissors, with his skin draped over his right shoulder. This is Damien Hirst's Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain, on loan from the shark-pickling artist.
One of the city's enduring red phone booths
I say goodbye to Fraser and head off to the recently opened Smoking Goat, a “Nu-Thai" eatery that serves small dishes inspired by Bangkok's late-night canteens. The stripped-down dining area is jammed with a chatty after-work crowd, which makes life complicated for the servers, who bustle back and forth with plastic plates of “drinking food"—chicken hearts, Cornish octopus, beef sausage, chili fish sauce chicken wings, crispy mackerel, steamed oysters. Eating this food feels like an adventure, and not only because there's so much of it—apparently, Bangkok's after-hours diners like their snacks with a zing.
I have a comfortable bed waiting for me at The Curtain, but all that drinking food has left me wanting a nightcap. The best place to get one, I decide, is the stylish basement bar Happiness Forgets (motto: Great Cocktails, No Wallies). I plant myself on a stool and order a Two Doors Down. I don't recall what went into the drink, but I do remember that I enjoyed it, and that I was happy, and that I stayed that way long after the night had come to an end.
Adventures in ancient Beijing
Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.
By Houston-based Quality Control Aircraft Inspector Rey Sacueza
As I thought back to my world history class in high school, a lesson about ancient China made me fascinated and intrigued with the country's mysterious and charming appeal. What really sparked my interest in this lesson was the Great Wall of China. That day I wished that someday I could walk and climb the stairs of this magnificent and amazing structure, built by human hands. 40 years later, this wish became a reality when my wife and I boarded a United flight bound for Beijing. Our time there was unforgettable – the experience was once in a lifetime for both of us.
Arriving in a country without knowing, speaking and understanding the signs/symbols and language made me feel very uncomfortable and out of my element at first. Even though we don't speak nor understand the language, to get to our hotel we managed to communicate with our taxi driver through sign language, the ultimate universal language of the world. Translation apps downloaded on our phones were also very helpful.
The next day, after a good night's sleep and with a full stomach following breakfast, we were ready and excited for the day of adventure. Our tour guide picked us up at our. hotel and guided us through the sights of Beijing. We experienced a bird's eye view of the Forbidden City from the highest peak of Jingshan Park, a spectacular, postcard worthy view. Seeing the cute, world-famous Giant Panda at the Beijing zoo chowing down on bamboo was also an experience to remember. We also explored the 2008 Olympic stadium called the "Birds Nest" and the aquatic center. We rode a rickshaw through the hutongs of the oldest neighborhood of the city and then into the Yonghe (Lama) temple with interesting works of art. At night, we attended a show at Red Theater featuring "Legend of Kung Fu," which was performed by China's leading performing artists, top kung fu practitioners, acrobats and dancers using precision artistry and skills. It was an amazing show not to be missed while in Beijing.
Continuing our adventures the next day, we were guided through a full day of experiences, full of seeing even more major sites Beijing has to offer. We explored the ancient and mysterious Forbidden City, strolled around the legendary Tiananmen Square, absorbed the majestic charm of the Summer Palace/Temple of Heaven and the sacred grounds and tombs of the Ming dynasty. After a long day of exploring, we headed to Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant on Wangfujing Street, where you can eat the world-famous Beijing (Peking) duck. Here, a chef will carve the duck right in front of you and present it to you at your table - a mouthwatering dining experience and another must while in Beijing.
On our last day, we saved the best for last. As they say, "No trip to Beijing would be complete without going to the Wall." At last, my ultimate dream and the inspiration that brought us to Beijing: We were at the Great Wall of China. We walked, climbed and took many pictures of one of the most iconic wonders and largest historical sites in the world. It's also one of the greatest feats of engineering and architecture in the world. No wonder it's a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!
Beijing is one of the most amazing cities in the world with countless once-in-a-lifetime experiences that are definitely worth the trip.
United and Special Olympics
Taking inclusion to new heights
Our shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world — and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics.Learn more
Find United in New York's Penn Station
In July 2015, through an effort to showcase our dedication to the New York/New Jersey area, we opened a branded experiential space in New York's Penn Station. The space was created to allow our customers the opportunity to engage with employees, as well as to help provide information on new routes, promotions, sponsorships and amenities. During the work week, a few of our Customer Service Representatives are available as additional resources for customers to help with upcoming travel plans, booking future travel or just simply to provide travel inspiration.
Since opening, there have been a number of events and promotions such as teaming up with TSA for a TSA Pre✓® enrollment event and offering Global Entry interviews to make the process even more convenient for you. Events and promotions take place throughout the year so be sure to stop the next time you're traveling through Penn Station.
Our United space at Penn Station is located near the main concourse and Amtrak waiting area. There are Customer Service Representatives available at the space Monday through Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM, as well as promotions and events taking place live Monday through Friday from 7:30AM to 9:30AM and from 4:00PM to 6:00PM; schedule pending holidays and government observances.
Eating through Asia, Excursionist Perk style
The best part about travel, according to Marc Marrone?
"Being able to taste and try the different cuisines," Marrone says, "because even if you don't speak the language of whatever country or culture you happen to be in, you can express a lot via food."
Spoken like a true, world class chef. Marrone, the Corporate Executive Chef for TAO Group Las Vegas, Hollywood and Singapore, recently got to immerse himself in Southeast Asian culture – and cuisine – on a week-long foodie dream come true of a trip, thanks to United's new San Francisco-Singapore route.
Marrone experienced just how spectacularly grand and modern Singapore is – the towering Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the luminescent stalks of Supertree Grove and the curved roof of the Esplanade Concert Hall all amazed him. And few cities interweave modernity and greenery quite like Singapore, a fact he had great appreciation for. Look no further than the Gardens by the Bay, a 250-acre nature park featuring intricately designed, flora-infused structures.
But beneath all of those stop-and-stare attractions lied what resonated most with Marrone: the food. From hawker stalls and wet (food) markets to Michelin-starred fine dining establishments, Singapore boasts meal options that cater to every mood.
Sharing in those food experiences with others who hadn't yet been to Singapore was his favorite part.
"You know, to see someone's face when they get to try something for the first time --that you've already had -- is an incredible experience, to be able to share that with somebody," Marrone says. "But then on top of that, experiencing some things on my own for the first time with everybody was really a crazy and amazing experience. We got to eat some amazing food and got to try some amazing things, and see some really cool parts of the city."
Additionally, Singapore is a great launching pad to the rest of Southeast Asia — as Marrone experienced, thanks to United's Excursionist Perk. Who wouldn't want two trips for the price of one?
The Excursionist Perk is meant to give a free one-way segment to travelers on round-trip award itineraries between two different regions, as defined by the United award chart. By invoking the Excursionist Perk, travelers can get a segment for no additional miles within the region they're visiting as long as it's a different region than where they're starting. All they have to pay are the taxed and fees associated with the new segment. For example, Newark-London-Vienna-Newark would cost the same amount of miles as Newark-London-Newark.
Marrone used the Excursionist Perk to add a day in Vietnam to his itinerary on his Singapore trip.
"I got to cook on the side of the street and eat some of the best food right off the grill on the sidewalk," Marrone said. "Little did I know how much of an impact the 26 hours we spent there would have on me."
To Marrone, Vietnam stands out more than any other destination he's been to.
"From the minute we got off the plane to then we got back on the plane, it was a full immersive cultural experience between all the different foods, we got to experience how we travel around Vietnam, and really got to spend a true day in the life of what it's like to be in Vietnam."
5 tips & tricks we learned
- Eat at a hawker center more than once They're everywhere and Singapore is home to the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world (Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle).
- The airport is a destination in and of itself The world's best airport for many years complete with a butterfly garden and rooftop pool. English is an official language of the country so no language barriers and it's a hub for Asian destinations so you're only a few hours from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and many more.
- Download Grab Singapore doesn't have Uber or Lyft so the Grab app is a must-have for getting around town.
- There's more than one infinity pool in town While the iconic Marina Bay Sands has its very popular roof top infinity pool, you can also find one at the JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South.
- You can still hit the beach in Singapore Singapore is home to Sentosa, a man-made island that features a beach that is over a mile long. You can also hit one of the two golf courses, 14 hotels and even Resorts World Sentosa, featuring the theme park Universal Studios Singapore and a casino.
The many faces of our United family
United is a second home to almost 90,000 people across the world. These employees work tirelessly day-in and day-out to help us run a safe, caring, dependable and efficient airline. We asked a few long-time employees from around our network about what they do, why they were drawn to careers in the airline and what they love about their jobs. Here's what they had to say.
Rosa has been a customer service representative at New York/Newark (EWR) for 31 years.
Rosa helps a United customer.
"Since I can remember, I've loved airplanes. I first traveled on an airplane back in 1978 when I came from Portugal. I was lucky enough that they put my family and me in first class on a 747 from Lisbon to America. I had a window seat … my face was glued to the window."
Joe is a Boeing 777 first officer based at Chicago O'Hare (ORD) for 24 years.
Joe pictured with his daughter, Callie.
"I enjoy speaking with our passengers, even if it is just saying 'thank you and goodbye' at the end of a flight. During irregular operations, it is rewarding to explain how and why the weather event (or maintenance problem) is affecting our operation."
Jim is lead ramp service employee at Houston (IAH), and has been with United 35 years.
Jim pictured on a United ramp.
"In a nutshell, I am responsible for the safe loading and unloading of aircraft I have been assigned to service. This encompasses making sure all personnel are safe in doing so. This not only includes United coworkers, but vendors such as aircraft fueling personnel, aircraft cleaners, etc."
Marilyn is a senior production controller in Technical Operations at San Francisco (SFO), and has been with United 29 years.
Marilyn pictured with another United employee.
"I dreamed of working for an airline from the time I was 12. I wanted to work as part of an in-flight team, however my small stature didn't meet the early requirements of this group. I started working in the kitchens then … went to school to get my airframe and powerplant licenses which allow you to work on the aircraft. After a brief period as a mechanic, I entered management within Tech Ops."
M.J. is an operations manager in the Network Operations Center [NOC] in Chicago and has been with United 40 years.
M.J. pictured in the United NOC
"When I go home at the end of the day, I think about all of the people that successfully got to where they wanted to go. … I think people don't fully understand how many people are involved in getting a flight out, not only on time, but safely to the destination."
James is the base chief pilot at Washington Dulles (IAD) and has been with United 29 years.
James pictured at Chicago's O'Hare Airport
"The best day on the job was when I first became a captain … I was the final authority on all things that affected the almost 160 people that were on board that flight. They were concerned with their upcoming business meetings, vacation plans or just visiting relatives, and they trusted me and my crew to get them to their destination safely and on time."
The gift of a lifetime
The last thing Newark-based Flight Attendant Jair Ripoll wanted to do was ask for help on social media. It just didn't seem right to him, airing his personal pain like that for everyone to see. But on a layover last fall, his friends and colleagues, Newark-based Flight Attendants Frank Luff and Colleen McClelland, urged him — pleaded, actually — to post news of his condition to Facebook in the hope of a miracle.
Ten years ago, Jair was diagnosed with a hereditary kidney disease. He was told at that time he would need a transplant as the disease progressed, but he had been unable to find a friend or family member who could donate one of their kidneys. Jair registered on the organ waiting list in Florida, where his family lives, praying that his name would be called before it was too late. With each passing year, the situation became more desperate.
At work, Jair kept the severity of his condition to himself. Flying was his safe place. The time he spent in the sky provided him a welcomed break from the fears surrounding his health. Frank and Colleen were shocked when he confided in them how sick he was.
"Colleen said, 'You never know how many angels are out there,'" Jair said, recalling how she encouraged him to tell his story on Facebook where his friends and fellow employees could read it and, hopefully, a potential donor would emerge. Jair was reticent, but Colleen and Frank convinced him by taking his phone and writing the post for him. Less than a minute after they published it, a message alert flashed across Jair's phone's screen. Someone had already replied.
"Steven was the first person to respond," Jair said. "I saw it and showed it to Colleen and Frank, and we all started crying."
Jair had flown with fellow Flight Attendant Steven Lepine many times and considered him a friend, but he never expected that Steven would be the first person to offer him the chance at a healthy life.
"I knew Jair had been sick, but I didn't know the extent of it," Steven said. "I felt like he was putting so much on the line with that Facebook post, and I just wanted to help him."
When Jair returned home to New Jersey, the two met for lunch and talked about what the transplant process entailed, including the battery of tests that Steven would need to undergo to make sure his kidney would be a good match for Jair.
"My family — my mother, especially — was worried," Steven said. "She knew the risks, but she also knew that once I decide something, I don't go back."
Things were going well until last October, when Jair's health took a sudden turn during a trip to Barcelona. When he got home, he barely had the strength to move. His friend, Flight Attendant Stephanie Torres, rushed him to the hospital in North Bergen, New Jersey, where doctors discovered that Jair had deadly levels of toxins in his body. They immediately put him on dialysis while Steven continued his tests. Finally, at the beginning of November, they got the call from the doctors at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, where the transplant was to take place: Steven was fully cleared. The procedure was scheduled for December 6.
At 6 a.m. on the day of the surgery, Jair and Steven met in the pre-operation room. Joining them were Steven's mother, his close friend and fellow Flight Attendant Jon Little, and Jair's mother and brother, setting up the first meeting of the families. Though there was a language barrier — Jair's mother only speaks Spanish, Steven's only English — the emotions that filled the space needed no translation. "Steven's mom said to me, 'Now you become my son as well,'" Jair said.
A few hours later, they emerged from the operating room. The transplant had been a success, though the recovery process would be long. Steven returned to work in January and Jair should be cleared to fly again this month. The two talk almost daily, checking in on one another and offering encouragement.
"Jair is my blood brother now," said Steven. "We'll always have this connection."
Jon Little, who stayed by Steven's bedside during the operation, has remained in awe of his friend. "He's a very giving soul," Jon said of Steven. "He's an amazing person, but this took him to a whole new level. He's so modest, he says it's not a big deal, but this is probably one of the most incredible things I've ever seen."
Steven does indeed downplay what he did, and in talking with him you get a sense of the selfless determination that compelled him toward such an incredible act.
"I look at it as helping out another person," he said. "I'm not looking for recognition or anything like that. I never dreamed that I would do something like this, but the moment presented itself and the need was there, and I felt like I had to step up to the plate."
But for Jair, it was more than that. Much more. Because of Steven's gift, his life is forever changed and he struggles with how to adequately express his gratitude. "I don't even have the words, or know how to thank him for something like this," Jair said.
"The reason we want this story told is because we want it to be an example to other people at the airline," he continued. "The people you work with really do become your family. If someone has a problem, I hope our story will help them find the courage to come forward and ask for help. It's like Colleen told me: You never know who your angels are."
Join us in our wildfire relief efforts in California
Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to California and to lifting up communities in need by announcing $150,000 in direct donations to the Ventura County Community Foundation and the North Valley Community Foundation for their efforts in areas affected by the ongoing California wildfires. We also launched a Crowdrise campaign to award up to five million bonus miles for individuals who make donations of $50 or more. All funds will go toward efforts to support affected communities in California. We also continue to work with the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and both community foundations with offers to fly first responders who need to get in or around California.
"United is deeply connected to the affected communities and with a profound sense of both sadness and duty during this difficult time, we are proud to offer our assistance," said Janet Lamkin, United's president for California. "We will continue to engage our generous customers, employees and MileagePlus members and work with local leadership to support all those affected by these devastating fires."
Donations to the Crowdrise campaign supports three relief partners:
- American Red Cross
- Ventura County Community Foundation
- North Valley Community Foundation
Today's announcement builds on our continued commitment to California and recent campaigns to aid in response to wildfires and other disasters. Over the last 12 months, we have raised and donated more than $900,000 to help communities affected by the wildfires.
We are also offering a travel waiver for customers ticketed on flights to, from or through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Customers may reschedule their itineraries for travel through November 25 with a one-time date or time change, and we will waive the change fees and any difference in fare for flights booked in the same cabin and same arrival/destination airports.
An unforgettable first: Rhett receives his flight certificate
Like most parents traveling with a baby for the first time, Kristin and Tyler Hildebrand felt a mix of excitement and nerves as they boarded the aircraft with their infant son, Rhett, during a recent family vacation to Cancun, Mexico. As they settled into their seats and made Rhett comfortable for his big adventure, Chicago-based Flight Attendant Paolo Vento stopped by to say hello.
In talking with Vento, the Hildebrands mentioned it was their first time flying together as a family. Hearing that, Paolo's eyes widened. To him, a first flight is as memorable an experience as a child's first step or first word (not to mention a badge of honor for anxious moms and dads) and deserves the same sort of celebration.
"I asked Kristin if she kept a scrapbook and she said yes, so I asked her if she'd like a first flight certificate for Rhett," he said. "She was so excited."
It's a practice that Vento began a few years ago after a family asked him to take their picture to commemorate their daughter's first trip. He asked the parents if they would like a certificate, and it grew from there. Since then, Vento estimates he's given out 40 or 50 of them, making each one at home and mailing them out on his own time and his own dime. The certificates are inscribed with the child's name, the flight's date, the origin and destination, and a short message that reads, in part, "Thank you for entrusting us with this milestone journey through the 'Friendly Skies.'"
"You only have one first flight, and it's nice to have these kinds of things to remember it with," said Vento. "What if that boy or girl grows up to become a pilot? Now they'll have a certificate to show the first time they were on an airplane. It goes back to doing these little acts that show we care."
Mrs. Hildreband took a photograph of Rhett with his certificate and posted it to Instagram, which drew oohs and aahs from other moms. She even sent Vento a nice note and shared it with his supervisor.
"Thank you so much for your kindness and thoughtfulness to take the time to do this. We will treasure this forever," she wrote. "Getting your package made my day. The world needs more people like you."
Things like this come naturally to Vento, who has brought plenty of smiles to the faces of customers over his 24 years at United thanks to his exceptional brand of service.
"If you feel like doing something nice for the customers, just do it, especially if it's authentic," he said. "It's something they'll never forget, and that's what they'll think about when they think of United."
Lifting up immigrant families in California
From mental-health evaluations to language and legal assistance, we are committed to addressing the most pressing needs of the thousands of immigrants that call California home. Earlier this year, we announced a $1 million grant to the San Francisco Legal & Education Network (SFILEN), a nonprofit that advocates for full access to social services and direct legal services to immigrant families regardless of their immigration status.
"United cares deeply about investing in communities we serve," said Janet Lamkin, president, California, for United. "We have been a part of the San Francisco community for 90 years, and we are proud to help SFILEN in its important work with the immigrant community."
Through a four-year partnership, the grant will allow the organization to provide 50 mental-health evaluations each year and 240 hours of language interpretation through SFILEN's hotline, legal consultations and clinics. Additionally, this grant will help SFILEN to hire two full-time staff members to a team that provides critical services to thousands of immigrants every year.
"SFILEN is very grateful for the partnership with United Airlines, and we are very excited about what we can accomplish together," said Marisela Esparza, director of immigrant rights for SFILEN.
This grant is one of eight that we have awarded in the key cities we serve, representing our commitment to invest in and lift up the communities where many of our customers and employees live and work. Each grant is a part of a total of $8 million to help address critical needs in Chicago; Houston; Washington, D.C.; Denver; New York/New Jersey; Los Angeles; and the San Francisco area.
The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".
Better Boarding consists of three key improvements
Less time in line:
By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.
Simplified gate layout
Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today
Group 1 will board through the blue lane.
Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.
Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.
Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.
We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.
Be in the know about boarding
Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).
Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.
Balanced groups and better recognition:
United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx
Improved premier customer recognition
We're happy to make them happy
Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.
The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience
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From players and personnel to thousands of pounds of equipment, it takes not only a game plan, but a team to get the San Francisco 49ers to their next game and back all within 24 hours. This process is a little thing in the airline business we call chartering. Learn more about how our Charter team gets professional sports teams to their away games and back on the newest episode of Big Metal Bird.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
"Many years ago at an air show, I saw a T-shirt that said 'Chicks fly,'" said Orlando-based Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and Chix Fix team coach Laura Spolar. "And I told my husband, 'Chicks can fly, but chicks can also fix!' A lot of people don't know that women are aircraft mechanics."
Laura didn't know it at the time, but that conversation would serve as the inspiration for the team name of our history-making, all-female team of technicians that competed in the
2018 Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC). Of 69 teams at this year's AMC, only three were made up entirely of women, and Chix Fix was the only one representing a commercial airline.
"It's so important for us to show young girls and women that this is a career option for them," said Airframe Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bonnie Turner, the Chix Fix team captain.
Chix Fix is made up of technicians from five stations. As a group, they only practiced together three times before the competition, but they bonded instantly.
"I feel like I've known these women my whole career," said Denver-based Line Technician Janelle Bendt. "It's been a lot of fun getting to know them and learning from them."
"As a team we just communicate really well; we all respect each other," said San Francisco-based Base Technician Katrina Oyer. "The biggest thing I've taken away from this experience is confidence. Working with these ladies is an eye opener. We really can do anything."
Watch the video above to learn more about Chix Fix and their journey to the AMC.