United Airlines

Win a seat on United Airlines’ Apollo 11 party flight. Eat like an astronaut on the ground.

Courtesy NASA

Celebrations are already underway to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the first steps taken by humans on the moon.

July 20 is the official anniversary day, but United Airlines and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport are among the groups that have a planned more than a month’s worth of activities to mark the lunar milestone.

Win a seat on a special United Airlines celebration flight

Top among the events is a special flight from Newark to Houston on July 17, the anniversary of the day astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin Buzz Aldrin made their first TV transmission from Earth to space.

On that day, United Flight 355 from Newark Liberty International Airport to Houston will be a celebratory flight with space-themed entertainment, inflight gifts and special guests who have been to space.

Want to go along? United is hosting a social media contest on Twitter with a prize that includes seats on board the Apollo 11 celebration flight as well as a behind the scenes tour of NASA facilities in Houston. Deadline to enter is June 22, 2019 at 10:29 a.m. CT.

Click here for rules on enterting United’s contest.

Beginning July 1, members of United’s Mileage Plus mileage program can bid miles on space-themed experiences such as VIP access to Space Center Houston’s Apollo 11 50thAnniversary Celebration featuring the band Walk the Moon. More information on that here.  

Courtesy NASA

No contest entry needed for these Apollo 11 activities:

There’s more: Starting July 1, seatback and personal device entertainment on United flights will include a channel with dedicated space-related program from NASA, including action cam footage of astronaut spacewalks.

In United’s Terminal C and E at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), there are lots of activities planned as well:

In Terminal C, gate lounges will display digital photographs from the Apollo 11 mission on the monitors.

From July 9-11 Space Center Houston will provide Apollo 11-themed pop-up science labs in the terminals. In the United Clubs, customers will have a chance to meet and take photos with retired Astronaut Ken Cameron.

During July, travelers will also have a chance to eat like an astronaut at In United Airlines’ at two restaurants at IAH, one in Terminal C and one in Terminal E.

What did the astronauts eat?

Courtesy National Air and Space Museum

Between liftoff and touchdown back on earth, astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins were running experiments, taking pictures, gathering samples and making history.

They also took time to eat.

“More than 70 items comprise the food selection list of freeze-dried rehydratable, wet-pack and spoon-bowl foods,” NASA explains in the 250-page typewritten press kit for the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission on July 6, 1969.

The press kit lists the day-by-day, meal-by-meal menu for each crewman and explains how some of the meals were prepared.

“After water has been injected into a food bag, it is kneaded for about three minutes. The bag neck is then cut off and the food squeezed into the crewman ‘s mouth,” the release explains.

Freeze-dried ice-cream isn’t on the list, but powdered fruit-drinks (not Tang; NASA doesn’t use brand names), along with bacon cubes, shrimp cocktail, beef stew, frankfurters, fruit cocktail, tuna salad and many other familiar foods are.

Familiar foods, or even just fresh foods, are often hugely satisfying in space for the memories they trigger and warm feelings they generate,” said Jennifer Levasseur, Museum Curator, Department of Space History at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which has 13 packets of food the Apollo 11 astronauts didn’t eat.

Like modern day travelers, food is one of the few things astronauts can control during a journey far from home. “Food must have had a very important role on Apollo 11 because they were doing things that had never been done before,” said Vickie Kloeris, NASA Food Scientist Emeritus.

Dine like an astronaut

Many of the foods found on those original Apollo 11 menus are featured during July on a special menu at OTG’s Ember Tavern and Tanglewood Grille in United Airlines’ Terminal C and E at IAH.

To ensure authenticity, OTG’s culinary team visited NASA’s Space Food Systems Laboratory in Houston to learn about and taste food prepared by NASA’s food scientists.

“We wanted to understand what food meant to astronauts having that experience and what it means now,” said Dan O’Donnell, OTG’s Head of Culinary, “We wanted to know the science and philosophy behind space food; where they were then and where it is now.”

The biggest take-away, said O’Donnell was that the astronauts could choose a lot of the foods they wanted to eat. “It wasn’t just about sustenance. Much of it was food that reminded the astronauts of home; like beef and potatoes, tuna salad and sugar cookies. Our menu is a play on those items.”

Travelers who order from the Apollo 11-inspired IAH menu won’t be served meals that need to be reconstituted and squeezed into their mouths from bags. Nor will they find 1969 prices.

Instead they’ll find modern-day versions of many menu items from the Apollo 11 mission.

“For instance, our take on the Tuna Salad uses seared ahi instead of regular tuna, but we prepared it in the same way with walnuts, grapes, celery, apple and some fresh yogurt,” said O’Donnell, “The Beef & Potatoes is made with grilled ribeye, scalloped potatoes and parsley pesto.

Although there was no alcohol on Apollo 11, there’s are cocktails on the IAH Apollo 11 anniversary menu.

“The original menus said, ‘orange drink,’ ‘grapefruit drink’ or ‘citrus drink.’ They were very flavor focused and on the sweeter side, because people taste things differently in space,” said Allison Kafalas, OTG Beverage Director, “I took those flavors and translated them to cocktails that are a bit more relevant and modern for today’s eater, including a peach bellini, a martini using an orange vodka from Texas and a pineapple margarita.”

Spider-Man & friends appear in United Airlines safety video

Spider-Man weaves through United Airlines’ newest safety video

Spider-Man poses with United Airlines employees who appear in the new safety demonstration video – courtesy United Airlines

F

For a story on USA TODAY, I was invited to be on set during part of the filming for United Airlines’ new safety demonstration video featuring Spider-Man – and friends.

Here’s the story, And the video.

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” won’t be in movie theaters until July 2 but, starting today, fans of the webbed wonder (and of hidden film references known as Easter eggs) will be able to see Spider-Man in action in United Airlines’ newest inflight safety demonstration video.

United Airlines, Sony and Marvel worked together to weave the Federal Aviation Administration’s required safety instructions into a fast-paced, short (4:44) film starring Spider-Man, a trio of villains, and some of Spider-Man’s friends.

“We’ve kept the worlds of Spider-Man and United safety separate, but together,” said Daniel Cuellar, Director of Global Advertising for United, “Crew members, as always, are doing the demos and giving instructions, but there’s an underlying fun Spider-Man aspect to it.”

And some cool special effects.

“That’s the benefit of partnering with Sony,” said United’s Vice President of Marketing, Mark Krolick. “We were able to make this safety video with movie theater-style production and effects. It’s not something we usually have the opportunity to do and I think our customers will appreciate the higher production value.”

And, United hopes, pay attention in a world where airlines try to out-do each other with engaging safety videos.

“There is plenty of evidence that learning is more effective when there is play and fun involved, and these videos follow a trend of gamification and entertainment of information,” said Sabrina Habib, a professor of Visual Communications at the University of South Carolina.

Spoiler alert: here’s the plot of United’s new Spider-Man-themed safety video

On the set during filming of the United Airlines new safety video. Photo Harriet Baskas

In United’s new safety video, villains cause trouble at the corner store owned by Mr. Delmar (played by Hemky Madera). Spider-Man happens to be nearby and springs into action. He chases the goons into a movie theater, to a park fountain, and down a dark alley; captures them all; and leaves them neatly wrapped up in a web with a handwritten note for the authorities that says “All Yours! Gotta Fly. Spider-Man.”  

If you pay attention, you’ll notice a framed photo of the late comic book writer and Marvel super hero creator Stan Lee in the store. That’s Spider-Man movie character Eugene “Flash” Thompson (played by Toni Revolori) helping to demonstrate safety instructions about putting electronic devices into airplane mode.

And, while you may not know who they are, some of the extras in the video are people who bid their MileagePlus miles for a chance to be part of the project.

There’s more:

Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker, has a best friend, Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) who is in-line outside a movie theater when Spider-Man streaks by chasing a goon into the theater. They race by a man walking down the sidewalk, played by none other than United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz.

“Wow, that must be some good movie,” says man-on-the street Munoz

“Yeah, I hear the best friend’s hilarious,” replies Ned.

During filming of the street scene outside the classic Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles this past January, Munoz was having fun bantering with the production crew and was patient and good-natured about the multiple takes.

Off the set, there was an upcoming earnings report and the impact the partial government shutdown was having on the airline industry to think about, but Munoz felt taking time to do this safety video cameo was important.

Besides being fun for him to do, “It brings an awareness that while United is incredibly serious about issues of safety and operational reliability,” said Munoz, “Were are the also the ‘The Friendly Skies’ and we want to be friendly and fun. I think this gives us that narrative.”

United CEO Oscar Munoz, Spider-Man and Jacob Batalon (‘Ned’). Photo_Harriet Baskas

How did United Airlines rope Spider-Man into a safety video appearance?

United is not only an official airline sponsor for the new Spider-Man movie; one of its airplanes has a cameo in the film.

In “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Peter Parker and his high school classmates go on a class trip to Europe, stopping in London, Venice, Prague and a few other places. United flew a 777-200, retrofitted with the Polaris business cabin, to London for a week of shooting.

“There are lots of different scenes of the kids going over and coming back.” said United’s global advertising director Daniel Cuellar, “Peter Parker has one very rich friend who’s flying in Polaris while everyone else is flying in economy. So there’s lots of great footage of the aircraft. And when the kids come home from Europe, they filmed in Newark Airport as well.”

Other tie-ins

United’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” tie-in goes beyond the safety video and the aircraft cameo in the film. 

Starting in June, travelers in United’s Polaris business class will get a Spider-Man-themed amenity kit, in red or blue, which includes a Spidey-branded eye mask and socks, alongside tissues and other branded personal care items.

The airline is also inviting MileagePlus members to bid award miles for a chance to attend the “Spider-Man: Far from Home” premiere in Los Angeles on June 26 or to use award miles to attend pre-release screenings in seven of the airline’s hub cities.

United Airlines’ new livery

United Airlines is having a reveal event in Chicago today to show the world the carrier’s new livery.

But, thanks to the magic of Twitter, we’re all getting a pretty good look at the design right here.

More images will start appearing online later today, but take a look at the short videos and images United has shared already.

As United says, a key difference is that the new design ditches the gold, in favor of United blue.

What do you think of the new design?

Vote for a United plane design

There’s one more day to cast a vote in United Airlines’ Her Art Here contest, which is giving two women artists a chance to have their work featured on a Boeing 757 aircraft.

Judges narrowed down submitted artwork to six finalists – three for a design to represent New York/New Jersey and three for a California-themed design.

Now the public is being asked to vote for one finalist from each region. Voting ends April 19.

Here are few of more designs that made the cut:

Look here to see the designs for all six finalists and to cast your vote.

Two winners, one representing each region, will be given a chance to work alongside renowned artist Shantell Martin to finalize a design for their respective region’s plane.

The finalists and the winners will also get open gallery shows and have their art work on display inside United Airlines terminals through 2019.

Winners also get 100,000 MileagePlus award miles and the two winning artists will also each get $10,000.

The final designs will be on planes this fall.

WOW Air shuttered and airlines, bus lines, travel companies try to help

Beleaguered WOW Air shut down on Thursday, posting a note on its website that all flights had been canceled.

For tickets holders stranded in various cities and airports, and those with tickets for future dates, WOW Air suggests contacting your travel agent or credit card issuer for help and offers this advice:

“Some airlines may offer flights at a reduced rate, so-called rescue fares, in light of the circumstances.”

As of Thursday evening, here’s what airlines, travel companies and even a bus company is offering WOW Air ticket holders in terms of “rescue” assistance:

Early in the day, the Hopper booking site announced that all customers who booked WOW Air flights through its site would get full refunds.

“Hopper will also be paying the full cost of rebooking for all its stranded passengers in transit.”

A variety of airlines are offering WOW Air tickets holders discounted rates on rebooked flights.

Icelandair has a posted a list of discounted Economy fares for stranded passengers en route to, from, or through Iceland. The fares are only available for passengers already on their journey, with a return WOW AIr ticket between now and April 11, 2019.

Other airlines, including Norwegian Air, Aer Lingus, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic are also offering special “rescue” fares to help WOW Air ticket holders. Check with the airline to see what they can do for you.

Even the Megabus company is doing its part to help.

Are you holding tickets for a WOW Air flight? Let us know how your rebooking plans work out.