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The 21-Million-Mile Man: You Should Meet Some of Your Heroes

The 21-Million-Mile Man: You Should Meet Some of Your Heroes
Jeff Edwards

The FlyerTalk Forum is a pretty big place, so, when a particularly good piece of FlyerTalk comes across our desks, we put it on the front page for regular Reports From the Forum. Want to read more? Check out the Reports From the Forum tag, or head to the forum yourself to see what the FlyerTalk is about.

“Yeah, it was me – should always stop by,” said ua1flyer to a fellow FlyerTalker who spotted him in his homewtown airport but wasn’t sure if he should say hello. “Always love talking to fellow travelers as especially Flyertalkers. Passing 20,800,000 on a flight with my Brother to Tokyo. Great to be able to spend so much time with him. I also have been approached by a lot of FlyerTalkers in the last few months. I always love chatting with you guys! It’s a very unique brotherhood/sisterhood.”

Outside of the FlyerTalk forum, ua1flyer is better known as Tom Stuker, the 21-million United miles man. Countless press accounts have featured him at various milestones along his journey to becoming the most prolific airline passenger in history, but for a man who admits he feels more comfortable in the air than on the ground, the Flyertalk forum might be the best place to get to know one of (if not the most) the most frequent fliers in the world.

Not Quite “Up In The Air” But That’s Bull—- Anyway

If you don’t know who Tom Stuker is, you might be more familiar with the character that his jet-set lifestyle draws obvious comparisons to: George Clooney’s character in the 2009 film Up in the Air. But, you should also know that “So much of that movie is bulls–t,” Stuker told the New York Post in a 2019 interview. “The biggest fallacy is [that] it’s impossible for him to do the flight schedule he does when he lives in Omaha.”

Stuker is the real deal. He was the first-ever customer to reach 10 million miles as a passenger on United Airlines which he travels with exclusively. He accomplished the feat while traveling for business and pleasure during his impressive career as a Chicago-based automotive sales consultant. That’s enough miles to circle the globe 400 times, fly to the moon and back 20 times or fly roundtrip between Houston and Chicago 5,400 times. And he’s since doubled that already impressive accomplishment.

When he reached 20 million miles with United Airlines this year, the legacy carrier pulled out all the stops to celebrate their best customer. There was a champagne toast for the entire plane and the airline reserved an entire lounge at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to mark the achievement with flair. It was a fitting fêting for a man who’s spent a total of 3.5 years in the air in United’s planes. But Stuker says that “At the end of the day, it’s not about the places I go, it’s about the people I meet,” he said when accepting the honor of being the first-ever 20 million mile frequent flyer.

“My Biggest Gripe About FlyerTalk Is All the Unwarranted United Employee Bashing,”

While Stuker is a frequent Flyertalk visitor, he has a few issues when it comes to his fellow frequent flyers on the social media site, not the least of which is what he views as unfair criticism of United Airlines and its employees. He has indicated that the rush to judgment in the infamous case of Doctor David Dao was especially distressing.

“My biggest gripe about FT is all the unwarranted United employee bashing,” Stuker lamented in a recent forum post. “Over 10,000 flights and I can count on one hand the employees that woke up on the wrong side of bed, yet I could point out thousands that take great pride in their job and truly care about the customers.

“Very few people know the real truth about some of these incidents. If you all knew the truth about the dog that died in the overhead bin or especially the real story of what actually happened with the doctor Dao incident you would not be so hard on United. Just sayin, they have about 100,000 employees if only 1 % of them wake up on the wrong side of bed each morning that’s 1,000 people. ….and that doesn’t happen I believe.

“But even if it did, so what. Is there a school where there isn’t 1 percent of the teachers that probably shouldn’t be teaching? Police departments? Fire departments? Hospitals? And don’t even go there with government! My father was miserable for most his life. It was like he went out of the way to always find something to complain about. I have found that the best parents, bosses, friends etc try to focus on the good in other people first.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Stuker’s defense of United Airlines earned some backlash from the world’s largest expert flyer community. A number of Flyertalkers pointed out that his experience with the carrier is likely much different than it is for those of us without his awesome status (and the perks and care that go along with it).

“I wish everybody did,” Stuker responded. “Fortunately about 20,000 do have the exact same privileges as all Global Service receive the same perks and benefits whether they have flown 4 million, 20 million or have earned it with a year of high revenue flying. I do get one thing that others don’t get. A jacket each year starting at 17 million.

“United didn’t pay for it, it was paid for by myGlobal Service Family in Chicago. You might benefit from more perks in life than the average Joe in other cases. A boss/ manager receives perks over an average worker. The same applies to officers in Police, fire and military. Hotels, car agencies, cruise lines and almost all manufacturers do as well.

“It’s all part of life. Almost everyone benefits more than the next person in one way or another. That being said, it doesn’t mean that all people shouldn’t be respected and heard when the product or service they have paid for doesn’t meet reasonable expectations.”

Although Stuker currently flies with all the perks of a VIP (including once being escorted through security with then-Senator Barack Obama), he has fond memories of air travel in the days before he was United Airlines royalty. He admits, however, economy class travel may not be what it used to be.

“I have flown close to 1000 in coach over the years,” Stuker recalled in a recent post. “Sometimes that’s all there is. Back in the 70s and 80s, the planes weren’t as full as they are today, so it wasn’t that bad. Also the first-class meals today are the coach meals from that time (pretty close). There were even times I set up my Sony Disc player and speakers in the back of the plane and DJed. Fun times!”

What’s It Like to Be the Man That’s Flown More Miles Than Anyone Else? Busy.

Stuker considers himself semi-retired and now travels primarily for pleasure rather than for business, but that hasn’t slowed the world’s most frequent flyer down one bit. In fact, his lifestyle would sound enviable even to those with absolutely no interest in collecting MileagePlus Rewards.

“Back in the air today heading for Tokyo,” Stuker revealed shortly before passing the 21 million mile mark. “I’ll pass 2 million PQM on the way. Looking at the calendar, it looks like I hit my 21 million in the first week of July. My summer like most unofficially starts Memorial Day. My wife and I celebrated that weekend at Nizuc in Cancun … at least once in your life treat yourself to what

“I believe [it’s] Mexico’s best resort. Going to Vegas this weekend to see Gaga. Became a big fan after watching A Star is Born. Hope she sings a bunch of those songs. The following week it’s ‘Stukerfest’ (my 2 boys and my brother) at the Cubs – Sox game at Wrigley. 2 days later , my wife and I go see The Rolling Stones at Soldier Field in Chicago (thank-you United Auctions!!! )

“The following day we take off to another favorite of ours , The Pavilions in Phuket (pool villa for sure). Great way to end June. I thank God every day for blessing me with the ability to take my wife and family on journeys that so many…so many more deserving people just don’t have that chance. In the fall I will begin on a project to try to change that. More details in the fall.

“In the meantime, enjoy the summer with your families and those you love. Growing up in a big family, we never traveled more than about 200 miles from the house until I was a senior in high school and took my first commercial flight (on United of course) to San Antonio.”

If you are a frequent United Airlines flyer, there is a good chance you will bump into Tom Stuker at some point in your travels, but in the meantime, the Flyertalk United Airlines MileagePlus forum is the perfect place to live vicariously through the world’s most elite flyer (or maybe to just stop in and say “hello”).

View Comments (8)

8 Comments

  1. shelby101

    November 22, 2019 at 4:36 am

    Anyone who has spent that much time in the air deserves every perk that can be bestowed on them.
    Well done and explained Tom

  2. Balrog910

    November 22, 2019 at 6:03 am

    Clearly, Mr. Stuker is numerous standard deviations from the center of the Bell Curve of United flyers, and obviously THE outlier, but has anyone see any analysis of the passenger makeup vis-à-vis mileage count?

    I assume most United passengers have a MP account these days, but what percentage have accumulated 1MM BIS miles? 2MM? How many Global Services flyers have achieved it through 4MM flight miles as opposed to being fortunate enough to have their companies fund a dozen Polaris Class Trans-Pacific trips every year?

    I would love to see these statistics.

  3. CEB

    November 22, 2019 at 9:30 am

    I must say that I agree with Tom regarding all the whining, and not just about UA, but Delta and AA as well. They have thousands of employees, hundreds of flights millions of pax and bags to handle. And the number of real incidents is incredibly small. And of course the ‘entitled’ bloggers and whiners expect every employee and every difficulty to be handled perfectly every time. Of course, none of the whiners have ever had a bad day or made a mistake.

    I have flown more than 4,000,000 on UA myself (just crossed that threshold) and find the employees make every effort to put on their best efforts. Occasionally they have a rough day and it shows, but a little patience, understanding and maturity will go a very long way in making travel more pleasant for everyone!

  4. jimboquick

    November 22, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Impressive for a passenger. But I wonder how many miles a season pilot flies in their career. Especially transatlantic pilots. And perhaps their is a huge difference in BIS miles and FF miles. So how many BIS miles does he have?

  5. DCAFly

    November 22, 2019 at 10:51 am

    Once you have 20M miles, you should be able to fly on plane where every seat doesn’t have a person, but a golden retriever puppy.

  6. 2stepbay

    November 22, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Wow…just the very thought of going through security that many times makes me wince. Well done Tom and congrats. Good feelings you are enjoying yourself in the process.

  7. mcgahat

    November 23, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    So who is the hero that is referenced in the article title? I mean, is a person that flies a lot a “hero” to people? Maybe I just couldn’t get past the spelling error in the first paragraph.

  8. EPtraveler

    November 29, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    Congratulations! I just completed 7 million on AA and I’m in awe of you! Like you, I understand that most of the employees do such a good job at what they do. Look at all the people these employees have to work with on a daily basis. UA and AA are huge companies! I think they do a good job and are pretty great people. Essentially, their job is to get you to your destination safely. AA has done that for me just as UA has done that for you. We’re not the “heros”, the people who help us stay safe flying are.

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