Happy anniversary from my very dear friends at United Airlines

So I’m crammed in my seat, waiting for the plane to load for the Cleveland to Chicago leg of my trip to Italy, when a flight attendant approaches me and asks if I’m Kathleen Mahar. He looks surprised that I am, indeed, that very person, and hands me a little envelope.

I open it to discover that United is congratulating me on 30 years of being a Mileage Plus member.


Imagine that.

Kudos to United for recognizing this particular milestone. But . . . it’s a card. No upgrade to first class, or maybe a pass for a visit to a United club. Not even a free drink ticket. Nada. I’m not exactly feeling the love. It’s just kind of weird, honestly.

I think back to 30 years ago when I signed up for my first frequent flyer card. It was a relatively new program at the time, I think. I was a bright-eyed, 30-something hottie starting a new job with Beverage Industry magazine and would be traveling fairly often. Points for miles? Cool beans.

Cleveland was a hub for Continental Airlines and I’m not sure whether that first card was with United or Continental, since United gobbled up Continental several years ago and dropped the Cleveland hub soon after (despite promises to the contrary).

Over 30 years, I can’t even imagine how much money was spent on Continental and United tickets. Granted, employers and clients paid for most of those flights, but the fact remains that plenty of cash was forked over to send me off to work all over the country.

I was lucky to have employers who allowed staff to keep their miles for personal use. I accumulated enough points on that account, through actual travel and later, by adding a Mileage Plus Visa card, to fund numerous trips. I think I went to Europe at least twice with those points and I used them one or more times to get flights for Chris to and from Australia.

I used the bulk of my points to go to Italy this month but there are still almost enough left to cash in for a domestic ticket. I don’t travel much for business now, so I guess I’ll use the Visa long enough to round up for one last ticket and then, I’m done. Thirty years and out.

It’s not so much that United is any worse than most of the airlines out there. I’ve had equally miserable trips in recent years on any number of American and foreign carriers. Have you noticed that the smaller the plane and the shorter the trip, the more generous the seat and leg room? My flight from Dulles to Cleveland was practically comfy.

Conversely, the flight from Frankfurt to DC was a butt-mashing, knee-jamming, shoulder-to-shoulder, way-too-personal encounter with strange seatmates for nine grueling hours. Ugh.

I have to keep reminding myself that it’s worth it (oh, so worth it) to put up with the discomfort in exchange for adventures in fascinating new places.

Oh, well. I’m done bitching about it. I know how lucky I am. I truly do.

But does anyone else remember when the skies actually were kind of friendly?

9 thoughts on “Happy anniversary from my very dear friends at United Airlines

  1. We just watched a show with a flight circa 1980, and mooned over the room between seats and between rows. I chuckled at the smoke drifting up from nearly every passenger on the plane, but I think my wife was jealous.

    1. Dave, when I first started flying there weren’t even smoking sections. Everybody just smoked all over the place! Then in the 80’s smokers were banished to the back of the plane. Nonsmokers had to wave away clouds of smoke and hack their way back through the haze to use the restrooms. Ah, the good old days.

  2. We watched a show with a flight circa 1977 and mooned over the space between the seats and rows. I chuckled over the wisps of smoke ascending from almost every passenger, but I thought my wife was a bit envious.

  3. Flew Lufthansa from Germany to Newark. They were amazing, attentive to all our needs and all the beer or wine we wanted during our flight. Even the food was good!

    1. I agree that Lufthansa has a better chance at being a decent experience than some of the others. But I’ve had some less-than-stellar flights with them, too. Glad you had a good experience!

  4. With you, particularly in respect to United. Sitting shoulder to shoulder on an international flight is miserable. It’s just plain wrong that I am dreading visiting my daughter in Norway because of the bone-crushing, knee smashing, shoulder knocking flight experience. Yeah, the card. Shove it . . .

    1. The older I get, the harder it gets to tolerate the discomfort, Sandy. Being short, I don’t care much about paying for extra leg room. But I’d definitely pay extra for a little more butt and shoulder space!

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