Slow morning at Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in upstate New York – Photo: Steven Paduchak
Ever wonder what itâ€™s like to be â€œthat guy?â€ Specifically, when trying to get on a particular flight, standing up at the kiosk as the gate agent scans everyoneâ€™s boarding pass?Â Well people, I had the distinct opportunity to be â€œthat guy.â€Â Welcome to the world of flying via standby.
What is â€œstandbyâ€ flying?Â Well, Iâ€™ll tell you.Â People who are on a standby list for a particular flight have the option to snag any available seats left over once the boarding process is complete.Â By â€œstandard passengers,â€ I, of course, mean people who actually paid money (or miles) for their ticket.Â Flying standby is most commonly a result of a friend or relative working for that specific airline, or regional affiliate. My first week being a part of this kind of travel was entertaining, exciting, nerve-wrecking, aggravating, and unorthodox, to say the least.Â Hereâ€™s how it all got started.
United uber frequent flyer, Tom Stuker, gets a custom labeled bottle of wine from United President and CEO Jeff Smisek.
Being a “frequent flyer” can be different for each person. Maybe you make a few flights down the coast each year or you see yourself flying around the globe weekly. Many airlines have a way of treating their best frequent fliers like royalty, but who is the king of kings? I would have to say that Chicago based automotive sales consultantÂ Tom Stuker, who reached 10 million mile status on United Airlines over the weekend, is undisputed frequent flyer king.
How much is 10 million miles in a lifetime? A lot — one heck of a lot. There are a handful of folks who have crossed the 3million mile mark on United, but no one has come close to Stuker’s 10 million. United can’t officially confirm it, but it appears that Stuker has flown more miles, as a passenger, than anyone else in history. To make the 10 million mark, Stuker has been a member of United’sÂ MileageÂ Plus since 1982 and has flown almost 6000 flights, with 200 trips to Australia alone.
Honestly, when I was invited to celebrate Struker’s 10 millionth mile in Chicago, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I figured a person who flies so much might have a bit of a jaded view on air travel — boy was I wrong.Â Upon arriving to Chicago on United flight 942 from Los Angeles, Stuker was greeted by United’s President and CEO Jeff Smisek and a whole entourage of other people. Before he de-planed, it was quite the spectacle and people gathered around not knowing what they were watching. A few girls actually came up and asked if Justin Beiber was getting off the plane. Heh… no, but someone much cooler was — the girls did not seem that impressed.
Stuker was escorted to a special section in United’s Red Carpet Club to even more people waiting. A lot of nice words were said, but really Stuker’s speech was quite surreal. He was a truly genuine guy and multiple times had to stop because he was tearing up. It was obvious that he saw United as a part of his family and even though he has met so many people he was able to thank many by name — from the CEO to baggage handlers it was quite impressive. Even with all the miles flown, he still has a strong love for flying.
Probably the most powerful part was when he had a hard time talking about when United went through difficult times with bankruptcy and employees having to make great sacrifices to keep the company alive. He is happy to see United’s bright future after the merger and wants to continue working on his miles. Even after his 10 million miles flown, Stuker stated that United had never lost his bag — quite the impressive feat.
During the celebration he was given the first and only United Titanium Card for hitting 10 million miles. He was also given a few nifty other presents, but probably the best was getting his name put on the side of a United Boeing 747-400 (N127UA). You know you have made it in life, if your name ends up on the side of an airliner (at least by airline geek definitions).
Uber frequent flyers like Stuker have a very different flying experience than mostÂ travelers. They get VIP treatment that rivals, or even beats, flying on your own personal jet. Many of you might experience a gold (or some other precious metal name) membership which treats you pretty darn well, but it can’t compare to when you are invited to the airline’s totally VIP and secretive super mileage club.
Probably the best gift ever. United put Tom's name on the side of a Boeing 747-400 (N127UA).
From the second these uber elite passengers even think about flying somewhere, they have multiple people making sure their trip goes flawless. Waiting in lines becomes a distant memory and they have a team of people making sure that nothing goes wrong.
This moment is truly a special part of airline history and it was great to be a part of it. Even though I love flying, I am not sure if I would stay sane doing about 700,000 miles per year. So cheers to Mr. Stuker and United for passing this milestone and hopefully there will be many more miles to go.
CHECK OUT ALL 11 PHOTOS FROM THE UNITED AIRLINES EVENT
Last week Virgin American started flying to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) via Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Not only was there celebration, but a big challenge placed to legacy airlines to watch their back — Virgin America is in town.
Virgin America seems like the little airline that could. Back in 2007 when they first started operations many of the large carriers barely took notice. Now, the San Francisco based airline keeps growing with a fleet of 39 Airbus A320 and A319 aircraft that serve 14 destinations. The airline currently has 60 additional Airbus A320s on order and plans to keep growing their route network. It is hard to argue that Virgin America does not deliver the best in-cabin product of any domestic carrier, and with prices matching other carriers, they could give the legacy airlines a run for their moneyÂ (story continues below photos).
- One of Virgin’s Airbus A320s.
- Some bubbly in San Fran before take off.
- Get your fight on.
- Adrian Grenier from the show Entourage with Sir Richard Branson.
- Virgin America’s CEO David Cush cuts the ribbon.
- Sir Richard Branson in boxing gear.
All photos by Nick Rose, click for larger.
â€œUntil today, travelers flying from Oâ€™Hare to the two largest California airports had little choice and few low fare options.Â We believe our flights will be a breath of fresh air for Chicago travelers and thank the City and Oâ€™Hare officials for their efforts to open up access to new competition,â€ said Virgin America President and Chief Executive Officer David Cush. It seems that Cush might be talkingÂ directlyÂ about United (which is based in ORD) and American Airlines (which has a hub at ORD) when he stated, “Flyers deserve more options than just the off-chance they may be upgraded from poor to mediocre on a legacy airline.”
The legacies are fighting back. United Airlines has announced a double mileage award program where residents of Illinois or California can earn double miles when flying between Chicago and LAX or SFO. United has also added an additional five round trip flights to SFO and one additional flight to LAX. American plans to add one additional flight between ORD and LAX in June.
United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson told the Chicago Tribune, “Our strategy is squarely focused on giving customers the most convenient schedule and access to the broadest network. We have competed with multiple carriers in these two Chicago-West Coast markets for years. We will continue to do so and will continue to win.” Those sure sound like confident fighting words to me.
Sir Richard Branson told the Chicago Tribune that, “We’ve had to fight our way into Chicago,” as he credited the big airlines at O’Hare with “knocking out” Virgin’s previous attempts to serve O’Hare for three years.
Virgin America isn’t stopping the fight at just flying to ORD, they too are offering special frequent flier rewards. Passengers flying between now and August 31st will be able to earn triple Elevate rewards points flying between LAX, SFO and ORD. Who doesn’t love a little battle of the airlines — well maybe the airlines, but it sure is good for customers.
Of course the large elephant in the room is that Virgin America doesn’t have aÂ good track record of making profit. Yes, they are still a new airline flying new airplanes into expensive airports, so it could just take time to make a solid profit. Virgin America does offer more bang for the buck, but will it be enough to woo over passengers who are loyal to larger carriers? So far it seems that Virgin American think they can. They brought the fight to Chicago and it looks like others airlines have heard the call. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
Due to being stuck in Dallas because of bad weather, I was not able to make this exciting trip with Sir Richard Branson. Luckily, others were able to capture the excitement:
* Story and photos from Jaunted of Virgin America’s Chicago event
* You can see more of Nick Rose’s photos on his Facebook page (a big thanks for sharing your photos)
United aircraft in new and old livery.
Being the world’s largest airline has its benefits, but there are also going to be negatives. The larger and more complicated you are, the more that can go wrong. Then add in a merger to the mix and you are just asking for trouble.
United Airlines had a bit of a challenging week this last week and it raises some questions. Even though some mistakes were made, it was sad to see how much of the media grabbed on to the stories, even after the stories were already resolved. Let’s take a closer look at what happened:
UNITED CHANGES ON TWITTER
Previously, United and Continental had two separate Twitter accounts (@UnitedAirlines and @Continental). United had about 194,000 followers and Continental had about 144,000. Having 338,000 followers is quite impressive, but this is where things go wrong. Twitter told United that they can’t combine both accounts. It seems silly that Twitter wouldn’t budge, even for money, but I guess that is how it goes. That didn’t mean that United had to give up all their followers.
With Twitter you can change your account name and still keep your followers. So the question becomes, should the new United take the old United account or the Continental? Sure, alienating either group of followers isn’t the best idea, but neither is giving up 338k followers to start a brand new account — which is exactly what United did.
I really like the idea of United changing their Twitter handle to just “@United,” but they have had one heck of a time getting anyone to follow. Out of 338,000 followers, as of late Friday there are just short of 10,000.
Since the new “@United” handle has been used, it has mostly been interacting with customers who have had bad experiences. Sure, it is great to reach out to your Twitter followers to help them, but if someone just reads the Twitter feed, it looks like nothing goes right at the airline. When responding to a poorly placed ad (see below), they sent the exact same message to over 100 people. That is not the proper way to handle the situation. It is okay to post just one reply to everyone.
I think Delta Air Lines has a slick system with @Delta to keep positive @DeltaAssist to help travelers with issues and @DeltaNewsroom to interact with media. That way fans of the airline that are watching @Delta see positive and helpful information and those customers who have issues still get help by @DeltaAssist.
AD IN NEW YORK CITY
Honestly, I wouldn’t have even known about this ad, except for the fact that United was apologizing to hundreds of people about the ad via Twitter. Anyhow, it looks like United put up an ad that states by ground zero in New York City stating, “You’re going to like where we land.” Okay, maybe not the best call, but come on people. This was an outside ad agency that placed the ad. Do you really think United wants to be associated with what happened on 9/11? They made a mistake, they are correcting it, they are apologizing, now let’s all move on.
REINSTATING 9/11 FLIGHT NUMBERS
With the merger of United and Continental, a computer system assigned the old flight 93 and flight 175 to current Continental Airlines flights. Currently, all flights fly both as United and Continental, so it would appear that United flight 93 and 175, which were involved in 9/11, were flying again. It was an honest mistake that was unintentional.
This was not a group of employees sitting around and deciding to re-instate the old flight numbers. It was more disturbing how big this story got versus what actually happened. Even after the flight numbers were explained, I saw legitimate news sources still waving the “omg why would United do this?” blame flag. I ended up more disappointed in the media than I did with the airline on this one.
New Branding at Chicago
CUSTOMER DAY ONE
Say what? I wonder if many of you even know about this. On Wednesday United unveiled their new look and brand at their main hub at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD). United put up all new signs and there are no more tulips to be seen. Even though it is sad to see the tulips go, this was a big day for United, their employees (Continentals too) and even for the city of Chicago. Unfortunately this story got shoved under the rug due to all the other things going on this week.
United might have dropped the ball a few times, but what company doesn’t? It just seems that airlines get unfair attention put on them when they do mess up and it keeps the idea that airlines are some evil company.
We can only hope that next week will be better!