A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

The Million-Mile smile

On a flight to Manila with United, I passed a passenger (pax) milestone. 600 miles into flight UA1224 LAX/HNL, I crossed the UAL 1,000,000 mile frequent flier threshold. Of course that doesn’t count my free mileage-reward trips, the miles I flew before I joined Mileage-Plus, the miles I have flown on other airlines, on other programs, or even the miles that I flew before today’s frequent flier programs existed. Yes, there was a time before these programs! But a million miles is a big milestone, something that is worth reflecting on. And to me, these stubs, part of a stack over 4 inches high mean memories. The best memories of a million miles. Ticket Stubs Top of the list is the people, and especially the flying staff and crews I have met, come to know, and in several cases to develop really good and long lasting friendships with. Just as with my friends on the ground, I’ve been there with you through your weddings and your divorces, childbirth, your kids first dates, their college graduations, and now I even know some of you as retirees and as grandparents. Wow! Where did all that time go? There are newer flying friends and acquaintances too, some from Twitter, some from my new home here at IAH, and some just random. Then there were the flying friends (like my FA friends Amy, Amy and Mike…) we all lost on 9/11. 9_11 Memory  But overall, yeah, there is no doubt about it. Number one on my million mile memory list is the flying crews. You guys & gals rock! Morology Next on the list has to be some of the most amazing views. Sure, my seat in the cabin is nothing like what the pilots see, but some of these memories will never fade, even if I do not always have pictures. I could not take my eyes off of Mt Fuji, at sunset, one time on the way into Nagoya. Being woken up by an FA friend to watch the most amazing Northern Lights “ever” over the Aleutian Islands. A December morning at 39,000 ft over London after an overnight snowfall made the country look like a postcard from a Dickens novel. Seeing moonlight highlighting the Himalaya’s. Flying right over the US Navy complete with an aircraft carrier in full battle deployment in the South Pacific. Early summer, flying over the Alps, and I was invited to come up into the cockpit (but that was pre 9/11). Any early morning arrival into SFO from NRT, banking over the Golden Gate bridge as the sun comes up. In a holding pattern over the Atlantic, just east of Boston, making a tight turn right on top of a school of whales. And the best of all, my favorite view ever, is seeing my wife’s face again after a long trip.

On final approach into Narita (NRT, Tokyo) chasing our own shadow Jpn Rice Narita Third on the list are the places I’ve gone to (and we’ve been to). I am one very lucky son-of-a-gun to travel as much as I have, and to have lived in so many wonderful places. Most people on this planet never leave the country they are born in, and those of us who travel “too much” often forget how lucky we really are. It truly is a rare privilege, and no matter how many times we curse delays at ORD and EWR, LHR, FRA, SFO, LAX (keep adding your least favorite airports to the list please….) our perspectives have to include the billions of people who will never experience the places we go to. Because until I breathe my last, I will always have my wonderful memories of Kyoto and Singapore, of London and of Bath, of Freiburg, Stockholm, Vienna, Zurich, Hong Kong, Portland (Maine, not Oregon !) and a hundred other wonderful spots in over 50 countries. You just have to call yourself lucky when you have had your own experiences in places as beautiful and as different as Bora-Bora & Tahiti, New Zealand, Vermont, Dubai, and Alaska. Some photos: RoundTheWorld

Mountains, meadows, and a glacier near Juneau Alaska IMG_0103

A sunset at sea, near Tampa Florida Fl Tampa sunset

Countryside, North Island, New Zealand NZ lunch

Fourth is the food. I am really adventurous when it comes to food, and some of the things have tried, well, sometimes even I wonder what I was thinking! But none of it killed me, and if you want to earn the respect of new friends in a new place, then eat what they eat. Try it, you might find you like it! One of my favorite strategies in a new country is to let the waiter/waitress order for me. I love doing this when traveling alone. Some of the best meals I have ever had were a result of that trick. Be brave, shed your skin and get outside of your comfort zone. After all, if you want everything to be “just like” it is at home, then please do everyone else a favor, and just stay home. Some strange foods: StrangeFood


Eel pie at Goddards, Greenwich England


Laughter, Humor, and the Funny stuff that just happens is also on my list. Surprising too how many of these involve my wife, like when we (almost) got arrested in the Caracas Venezuela airport for gambling, because we were playing Yatzee with dice. Or when she ‘pranked’ a flight crew into thinking I was a stalker, at 39,000 ft over the Atlantic. The_Stalker The earthquake on our honeymoon in Hawaii, while she was on the toilet… (OK, I’m still laughing about that 28 years later, she… is not!).

Then there was my surprise 50’th birthday party when stranded at NRT, where a UA flight attendant and his wife invited me to their apartment so I would not be alone. Another birthday in the air, and the Singapore Air crew that had a cupcake waiting for me on my seat table when I boarded. The crew on a BA flight that had my German friend and traveling companion do the safety talk, in German, because none of the crew spoke that language. The great crew on SwissAir who I tortured with my French and German for an entire 12 hour flight. Tower_of_Babble An almost empty SIA flight in September 2001, where several flight attendants got together and started singing along to the Beatles “Hard Days Night”. My good friend Sue telling me about her pregnancy, at altitude, while I was trapped! Sues_surprise Playing penny-poker with FA’s in the aft galley on an almost empty 747. And so many hours sitting in a jumpseat with a good flying friend, just talking, and talking, and talking… (OK, there may have been some hugs too)

Then there is the scary stuff. Being detained (twice) in Shanghai, having loaded weapons pointed at me in Seoul/Incheon. The poke in the ribs in Jakarta, that turned out to be the muzzle of a pistol. Two car accidents overseas, multiple in-flight emergencies, people I was traveling with getting sick, my getting sick or hurt, relatives dying while I was away. All the bits of life that are going to happen anyways, no matter where you are, just made worse because of distance, time zones, and language barriers.

And music! I can’t forget to mention the music. Some really cool stuff that I have heard or been exposed to and found that I liked. A husband/wife FA team on Lufthansa that introduced me to Govi, the acoustic guitarist who is still one of my favorites. The Hotel concierge in Manila who got me tickets to go see Mindi Abair – she’s a wow, and a great sax player too. Listening to an iPad track being played by a Japanese acquaintance, and discovering that the artist was the younger sister of a girl I knew in High School. My first time hearing the gamelon played in Indonesia. Or steel drums in Bermuda. The Grateful Dead, for free outdoors in San Francisco (OK, confession, I was living there then, so I didn’t have to travel). And in the Spring of 2005, in Ireland, hearing Celtic Woman for the first time, and falling in love… with their music of course.

Ms. Abair Mindi Abair

It’s been a million miles (or 2), and I’m still smiling, and you know what? That is the best way to live.

JR / Houston Texas, Oct 9 2014

The actual evidence, signed by the flight crew. And the UAL certificate image

So, we all travel, what are your favorite memories?

Link to How to be the perfect(?) passenger

Link to Does your FA like you

Link to Photos from around the world

9 comments on “The Million-Mile smile

  1. Karlene
    October 19, 2014

    JR, It was great to meet you! Thank you so much for taking your time to come my way. And I’m thinking about your adventurous spirit of eating anything… well, you did it again. 🙂 A wonderful evening. Many thanks for the wine and my lion. I love it! And will have you email me the origin again. Have a great flight home and come see us again!
    PS… Great post and beautiful photos. A million smiles along the way. Love it.


    • jlroehr
      October 19, 2014

      It’s the flying crews, like you, who make it all possible if course. So a “tip of the hat” to everyone who works up there. Passengers like me just sit back. You work it.

      So “thanks”.


  2. nba即時比分
    December 30, 2014

    Nice Blog, thanks for sharing this kind of information.


  3. I’ve shared this with my Flight Attendant friends – This is heartwarming and frankly beautiful and kind – Thank you JR – Nancy


  4. The Guy
    June 2, 2015

    Hey JR, many congratulations on such a great milestone. Also what a wonderful set of reflections you have. It is great that you made so many great friends with the flight crew.

    I currently hold over a million miles through SkyTeam. I’ve had a few big flight redemptions and flight upgrade rewards too but still keeping pushing over that million. It is nice having them available for treat redemptions.

    It sounds like UA have really given you great recognition for your loyalty. I’ve never received a formal recognition for the moment I first passed a million miles. I’ve also flown on my birthday a few times and apart from the gate agent checking my passport, nothing has ever been said of it. You’ll have to share your secrets with me 😉


    • jlroehr
      June 2, 2015

      Well, the chocolates I carry do help, but I think it is even simpler than that. Each FA sees a thousand pax a week, so what can you do to make yourself stand out?

      Simple stuff, like smiling, saying “Thank You”, “Please”, and always complimenting them when they do a good job. At least, that gets me recognition on the routes that I fly regularly and repeatedly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Guy
        June 3, 2015

        Hmm, I’m always polite too, probably I’m not as cute looking though? haha 😉

        One trick I use is to wear an amusing but inoffensive t-shirt. That always gets the cabin crew on board with a smile and nice comment.


      • jlroehr
        June 3, 2015

        I’ve been called many things, but “cute” isn’t one of them. lol!!!
        55 years old, and always in long pants and usually a collared shirt.

        PS: “Million miles” is actual air miles traveled, not reward miles which are much higher.


      • The Guy
        June 3, 2015

        I see. I’m probably there too but difficult to track on the Flying Blue account. I’ve been flying international almost every single month since May 2000. Many long haul from the UK to the US, Asia, Australia etc.

        I have earnt Platinum Elite for life though which is nice 🙂


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