by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, August 12, 2019
In his 65 years Tom Stuker has flown the equivalent distance of 843 times around the world, clocking up more than 21 million miles and making him the human to have flown the furthest on the planet.
The honour is a curious one that elicits more questions than answers: How? Where? Why?
How? All on United. He is the American airline’s most distinguished customer, and even has a 747 named after him. Where? Everywhere, including Australia more than 300 times, and every single US state in just 50 days (which earned him first class travel for a year). Why? Business, initially, then simply for the thrill of the challenge.
“My first commercial flight was 50 years ago at the age of 16. It was of course a United flight from Chicago to San Antonio,” said the car sales consultant and married father of two. “I started to count the miles when all the carriers launched their frequent flyer programmes in the early Eighties.”
And there has been plenty to count. In January this year he broke a record of 20 million miles flown, only to break it again with 21 million in July. That’s the equivalent of London to New York and back 144 times in six months.
Such a sustained schedule of flying is unattainable, surely? But Stuker makes it happen. A typical week might include seven days of air travel, from Vegas to his home in Newark, to Chicago, United’s hub, and on to Tokyo, one of his favourite destinations, to Frankfurt, back to Chicago, then to London and back and to Japan once more.
He travels regularly for work, as well as pleasure, and when unable to use United flies instead with their partner airlines in the Star Alliance. He says he purchases “97 per cent” of his flights and uses his vast miles account to book the remainder.
“I love United because they have become a second family,” he says. “I have a great personal relationship with hundreds of current and past employees.”
Though Stuker has always been drawn to life in the air, at first it was provoked a great anxiety. “Yes, I have been scared on a flight - all of them early on,” he says. “I had a tremendous fear of flying.
“I eventually got over it and today the worst turbulence might startle me but never worries me. Airplanes are built to take much worse than I have experience. Over 10,000 flights on United with zero emergencies.”
But that’s not to say he hasn’t had his experiences: “I’ve seen it all. Last year I saw a 90-year-old woman screaming in her sleep ‘Mummy’”. He’s also flown alongside Janet Jackson, Bill Murray and Steven Tyler and enjoys regular premium lounge access, free cocktails, and door-to-door executive limousine service.
Stuker says he is not ignorant to the environmental impact of such intense aviation, but maintains “the plane is going to go with or without me”. “I could see the criticism if I were flying on a private plane, but I don’t,” he says. “As far as a carbon footprint, I am very conscious of the environment in every aspect of my life not just flying.”
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Between in-flight entertainment, improved airline food and lay-flat beds, he says air travel has never been better. “Sure I miss the days when they served Dom Perignon and caviar [but] flying has gotten much better over the years,” he said.
And yet, despite his jetset, globetrotting lifestyle, he maintains his favourite place in the world is where? New Jersey. Home.
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