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FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Michael Covey Managing Director, MileagePlus, United Airlines

Feb 1, 2023
January/February 2023

PHOTO: © BARRY BRECHEISEN

THE BASICS
Name: Michael Covey
Title: Managing director, MileagePlus
Company, city: United Airlines; Chicago, Illinois
First job: Re-shelving library books at age 13 for $4.15 an hour
Where to next: Singapore! I have never been there and I’m grateful Crazy Rich Asians is playing on our planes so I can know the top sites.

A LITTLE BIT MORE
What actor or actress would play you in a movie of your life?
Adam Scott. He seems down-to-earth with incredibly versatile acting skills. I have a connection to Parks and Recreation, and his acting in Severance was second to none.

What would you be doing professionally if you weren’t in your current industry?
I would be teaching French. In college I spent many hours studying 19th-century French literature, my major. I still read in French to keep up the skills, and now my daughter takes French in middle school, so I get to live that dream at home.

What is your favorite book, movie or television show?
I just reread Of Mice and Men, one of my favorites; a few of us in MileagePlus had a small book club to dig into the book’s themes. But my favorite book is The Power of One, historical fiction weaving the upbringing of a South African boy with the history of the nation. Reading it inspired an incredible trip to Africa.

What historical figure, dead or alive, would you love to have dinner with?
I would have dinner with Darwin and discuss what it was like when he traveled the world and landed in the Galápagos.

THE BUSINESS
What is your most recent project, and what was the inspiration behind it?
We recently launched and continue to expand Money+Miles, a new form of payment allowing MileagePlus members to combine a custom amount of miles with cash to pay for flights. The team created this to increase flexibility for redeeming miles and make booking with miles more accessible.

What is your favorite aspect of the job?
I have an incredibly diverse team. Some started careers on the tarmac, in medical software, in international research. Some have been at United for 10 years, some just starting. We include individuals from different countries, first-generation Americans and people with family in Chicago for generations. We have globetrotters and homebodies. Introverts and extroverts. I most enjoy coming together with our different perspectives to develop new concepts and ideas.

What’s the biggest business risk you’ve ever taken?
The biggest risk was adjusting how members qualify for Premier status in 2019, moving toward a revenue-based program, away from distance-based. I was hesitant at first, as no other major U.S. carrier made this big shift; however, it made sense because some members spent high amounts at United but didn’t fly far enough to earn status.

Who is someone you admire professionally in the travel industry?
I leave out United employees because I admire so many, especially those who shattered glass ceilings. I’ll keep this to a group: I really admire all the individuals working to make travel more sustainable.

AS A TRAVELER
Tell us about a travel nightmare: My first trip as a parent, I was unprepared to travel with a 2-month-old. I now pack an emergency outfit for every member of the family. I will let your imagination fill in the gaps.

Share a comical travel experience: As an airline employee, almost all travel is a bit comical, as you show up to the airport, bags in hand, ready for an adventure with no idea if you’ll make it onto a plane. My family of four was attempting to travel to Europe. After the first three flights didn’t work out, we crossed our fingers for the last flight to London. We were the last four to get seats, and the gate agents joked to “run and find any open seat.” It was my son’s first trip with a portable DVD player, and he watched it for all eight hours. When we approached London, he said it was the best plane ride ever. This was before screen time was a thing!

What is your preferred method of travel — planes, trains, automobiles, cruise ships — and why? Planes, especially on award flights: a confirmed seat, cruising in the safest mode of travel at 550 mph to visit another country. Nothing beats saying, “Have a good weekend” on Friday afternoon and then Monday morning comes with a new stamp.

What has been the best example of customer service you’ve experienced during your travels? When I took my family to South America, a teddy bear was waiting for my son on the bed in our room. I’m impressed when companies take information they have about customers and use it to put a smile on a traveler’s face. Recognition goes a long way for me in terms of customer service.

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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