How United Airlines Has Helped Team USA On Their Road To Tokyo
by Lisa Costantini
Amanda Longan during practice on Feb. 23, 2021 in Los Alamitos, California.
To Team USA athletes, the postponement of the Tokyo Games 2020 probably felt like sitting on a runway with no idea when the plane would take off. But one year after they were due to compete on the world’s biggest stage, they are finally ready for liftoff.
United — Team USA’s official airline sponsor for the past four decades — is giving its full support to the athletes and marking the occasion with the release of their latest campaign earlier this month, “Time To Let Yourself Fly.”
The advertisement stars five of the world’s most accomplished and decorated Olympic and Paralympic athletes: gymnast Simone Biles, surfer Kolohe Andino, soccer player Julie Ertz, Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long and Paralympic hand cyclist Oz Sanchez.
Long, a four-time Paralympian with an impressive 23 medals, said the spot “gave me chills. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of United with some incredible athletes as well. I am beyond thankful to be traveling again and all the hard work United has done to make that happen. Can’t wait to fly to Tokyo on United!”
United has proudly sponsored Team USA Olympic and Paralympic athletes as part of its long-standing relationship with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
“The upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games mark the 40th year we’ve supported Team USA on their journey from practice to the podium,” said Janet Lamkin, senior vice president of market and community innovation at United. “Like the athletes we’ve flown over the years to compete on a global stage, United is an airline committed to doing the hard work to be the best.”
For Olympic water polo player Amanda Longan, that hard work includes logging many hours away from friends and family — something she hadn’t done in a year due to the pandemic.
“We all know it’s not easy to leave our homes and our loved ones for long periods of time, but for us athletes, it’s part of the job and part of the dream,” said the goalkeeper and first-time Olympian. “But it’s easier knowing United is going to do everything they can to get us to and from home efficiently and with care so we can go chase our dreams and make it back safely to our families.”
With the precautions that airlines have put in place — like mask-wearing, maintaining social distancing and stringent sanitation protocols — Tokyo shooting alternate and 2016 Olympian Ginny Thrasher said it has comforted her, allowing her to “get to my competition, experience the world and travel home without worrying about sickness.”
Although her first flight back she remembered being nervous flying from Colorado to Budapest with her coach. “We were concerned about the trip and the potential of getting stuck overseas,” she said. But the trip turned out to be better than she could have hoped.
“Right before we boarded, United let us know they upgraded us to Polaris for the long flight. I had never traveled first class before. The trip ended up being one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had! I think being so well-rested from being able to sleep on the plane going into the competition also helped me win four gold medals on the international stage.”
Her teammate and fellow 2016 Olympian, Lucas Kozeniesky, who will be competing in Tokyo, admitted, “Honestly, this year for travel has been fairly stress-free and boring — which is appreciated when traveling abroad for competition!”
Let the Games Begin
With only days to go until the Opening Ceremony, many Olympians have already taken their flights and arrived in Tokyo — with the Paralympians not far behind. The feeling of traveling and being on a plane — especially as a team — is something 2016 Olympic water polo player Alex Obert said means “we are getting one step closer to normal and finally reaching our goal of playing the Olympics.”
For the women’s rowing team who punched their ticket to Tokyo, their excitement was magnified by the special sendoff they received on one of their last United flights before heading east.When their plane made its way down the taxiway in New Jersey, plumes of water hit it from both sides. Outside the windows, fire-fighting vehicles shot a series of arches over the plane.
First-time Olympian Charlotte Buck knew the water salute was coming; a member of her host family worked at the Newark airport and informed her that he had helped organize a surprise for the team.
Two-time gold medal rower Meghan Musnicki — who will be competing at her third Olympics — called the sendoff her favorite travel memory from the past year. “I had never experienced that, and it was cool to feel the support of so many people rooting for us,” she said.
“Everyone on the plane was so kind! They clapped for us when the pilots announced that we were on the flight, and people asked us about rowing and when they could watch us in Tokyo,” Buck added.
Lisa Costantini is a freelance writer based in Orlando. She has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications, and has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2011.