Taking in the views of New Zealand
Airport Ops International Planning Manager Jack Quinones has been busy this year preparing for several of our new and seasonal station openings. In addition to playing a key role in the start-up of AKL (Auckland, New Zealand), Jack also helped to open XIY (Xi'an, China) earlier this year and is helping with the HGH (Hangzhou, China) station opening in July. Between flying back and forth for several site visits at AKL in preparation for our first flight on July 1, Jack took some vacation time with his partner, David (a United flight attendant), to learn more about all the island has to offer.
When visiting New Zealand the first thing that comes to mind is how pleasant everything is — from the soothing teal, green and blue colors splashed across spectacular scenery to the friendliness of its people. The North Island of New Zealand has recently become known as the setting for Middle-earth made famous by "The Lord of the Rings" movies. This radiant and beautiful island is home to Auckland, the country's largest city, and its capital, Wellington.
We first stopped in Auckland, which is usually the gateway for many travelers to the country. It is New Zealand's pulsating heart, with trendy restaurants, cafes, art galleries and a multitude of shops. It is truly a beautiful city, set on the northern part of the island. The skyline is dominated by the Sky Tower, a great place to soak in spectacular views of the city and beyond. If you are brave enough, you can walk around its narrow walkway held by a harness. I wasn't.
In addition to its abundance of Victorian architecture, the city also has many beautiful parks and the Auckland Botanic Garden. The Domain is a beautiful park sitting atop a hill overlooking the city and is home to the city's main museum, the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Here we found tons of history dating from the Maori settlements to British colonialism. It is also the primary showcase of the country's participation in World War I.
Auckland is also the gateway to many of New Zealand's famous vineyards. A quick ferry ride to Waiheke Island from Auckland's Ferry Terminal will transport you to a beautiful spot adorned by gardens, pretty homes and spectacular beaches. A ride around the island by public bus will take you to dozens of small family-owned vineyards. The one we chose to visit was Wild on Waiheke. Here we sampled great wine, beer and local cheese.
A short one-hour flight away to the southern tip of the North Island is Wellington. Although smaller than Auckland, Wellington proudly announces to everyone that it is the capital city of the country. Located on a bay surrounded by mountains, Wellington has spectacular scenery. One of the best lookout points to view the city is from the Wellington Botanic Garden. To get there, take a cable car from Lambton Quay. I chose to walk up to its main entrance on Salamanca Street.
Since it is the capital of the country you should visit Parliament. A modern building known as the "Bee Hive" is its newest attraction. Free guided tours are scheduled throughout the day explaining New Zealand's parliamentary system and its history.
A walk around the harbor is another great way to see the city. Most of the country's seafaring history began here, so many of its landmarks are dotted throughout the harbor walk. The most imposing of all is Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. Here I saw some of the oldest Maori buildings in existence, a great historical photography gallery and an exhibit on Gallipoli, the infamous World War I battle.
After so much culture, I was ready for beer. Since my arrival, the uber-pleasant people of New Zealand had been telling me to try the many craft beers that exist in the country. To sample some of the best beer in the world, Cuba Street is the place to go. It is teeming with street performers, bars, restaurants, coffee houses and unique shops. It is said that Wellington has more restaurants per capita then New York! At least this is what I heard over and over.
So, on your New Zealand adventure, make sure you hit these two great places. New Zealand is a place where contrasts work well together and in harmony. The old with the new. The past with the present. The Maori culture alongside British and European heritage mixed in with a strong Asian presence. Its love for all things modern, yet respect for the environment. And everything seems to work pleasantly well.
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.