In the 757-200 Flight Deck prior to my Million Miler flight with United Airlines for the obligatory staged photo taken by Captain Denny Flanagan
Earning Million Miler status with United Airlines just after turning 27 was no easy feat, but I think my young age helped to explain how I passed that threshold in less than a decade of flying – I was an eager aviation enthusiast and went out of my way to take circuitous routings not just to earn extra miles, but because I genuinely enjoyed just sitting on an airplane.
Back in the day, United allowed obscenely generous routings on most tickets. As a result, it was not uncommon for me to to fly between Philadelphia and Las Vegas via Washington, New Orleans, and Los Angeles or something similarity outlandish. Of course united.com did not offer such routings automatically, but they could be pieced together manually. It made for some great weekends. These generous routing rules were eliminated for the most part just prior to the merger with Continental.
As my Million Miler (one million flown miles, not earned miles) flight approached in late 2013, I knew I wanted to make it special – but how? I had flown with Captain Denny Flanagan many times over the years and decided that flying with Captain Denny would be an ideal way to cross the MM mark. I contacted him a couple weeks prior and he was quite excited about the opportunity. We compared schedules and I ended up booking a BUR-SFO-DEN-LGA trip with Denny piloting the DEN-LGA flight upon which I would cross the mark. I had to get Germany so would just continue on the following day from Newark to Frankfurt.
Math was never my strong suit and a couple days before the trip I re-crunched numbers and saw that the flight with Captain Denny would not put me over the Million Miler threshold – I would still be about 187 miles short. To compensate, I booked a next-day trip to San Francisco, going up on United to earn those 500 miles and then back to LA on another carrier since that would mean I would cross the threshold on my SFO-DEN flight if I flew UA back. All in a day’s work…
The day finally came. A crisp December Wednesday with great weather across the country. The early flight from BUR to SFO was routine as was the SFO to DEN flight. Lunch from San Francisco to Denver was a shrimp salad or a chicken burrito, both served with cream of mushroom soup. I went for the carb overload.
Reaching Denver with plenty of time to spare, I settled in the United Club to address some Award Expert clients. My phone rang and it was Captain Denny…he was wondering where I was. I headed to the gate area and he warmly greeted me. Boarding was to begin in about 20 minutes and a Global Services agent appeared and over the loudspeaker told everyone in the gate area this would be Million Miler flight. Some people applauded, most had no idea what she was talking about.
She presented me with an assortment of United swag including a cap, Frank Sinatra “Come Fly with Me” CD produced by United, a United lanyard, and an envelope with a handwritten note thanking me for my business and containing two United Club passes.
Boarding began and I found my seat in 2D, my preferred seat in the now-retried United 757-200. Captain Denny invited me up to the flight deck for pictures prior to the flight and introduced me to the crew. Everyone was pleasant and most commented on how young I was. I know, totally ego-stoking.
Prior to pushback, Captain Denny announced over intercom that this would be my Million Miler flight while doing his pre-flight welcome. We took off and as always seems to be the case when I fly with Denny, the flight was on time.
FAs were very friendly not just to me, but to everyone. Dinner choices were beef hoison or penne pasta marinara. Warn nuts to start followed by a meal on one tray that included a green salad, shrimp appetizers, and the vegetarian pasta.
The flight progressed and somewhere just over the NY state line Captain Denny came on to make the announcement that I had just surpassed the Million Miler mark. The entire plane broke into applause. A bit embarrassing, but definitely unforgettable and I would by lying if I said I did not love it.
We touched down on-time at New York LaGuardia and I remained seated while the other first class passengers promptly filed out. I headed up to the flight deck to thank Denny and the first officer and headed out to the jet bridge, where a group of about a dozen LGA ground staff was waiting for me. They all clapped and presented me with a bottle of champagne. Moët and Chandon, but it was the thought that counts! Captain Denny presented me with the flight plan including with the exact moment I hit 1MM marked.
Mike was there (United gave him a gate pass) and after saying my goodbyes to the very friendly United staff, we headed into the City.
The great crowds waiting to greet me…
Let’s be honest – I got the royal treatment because I asked for it, in a sense. I knew that flying with Captain Denny would mean a special in-flight experience. Special it was, an unforgettable day that further solidified my lifetime loyalty to United and made me anxious to start on my next million miles. I’m not the only one who has had a very special MM flight – we read about them all the time on Flyertalk. Feel free to share your Million Miler memories below.
Captain Denny is retiring next week, the reason I posted this now. More thoughts on him tomorrow.