Wow, better late than never, right? While the rest of the blogosphere was diligently posting play-by-play updates about the SMD4 two weeks ago as it was happening, I was too busy partying in every city with my new MegaDo friends and then sleeping with a blanket over my head simultaneously while crunched in economy the next day (hey, at least I’m honest… it’s not often that I get out). In fact, I really don’t think I even opened my computer once during the whole trip. Whoops.
For those readers who still have no idea what a MegaDo is, in simple terms, it’s basically the ultimate travel junkie’s field trip where about 200 other frequent flyer fanatics come together and charter a plane to hop around from city to city and participate in some pretty awesome behind-the-scenes programs put together by the sponsors. You can learn more about this contagious MegaDo phenomenon by visiting the official MegaDo website.
I participated in both the International portion (Los Angeles – Frankfurt – Zurich) and the domestic portion (San Francisco – Houston – Chicago), and we visited all of those cities from November 11-November 16. Yes, traveling to all of those places in less than a week’s span is exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time.
On the first day, we flew from LAX-FRA, where we had a short program at the Lufthansa terminal before boarding our next flight to Zurich. When we arrived in Zurich, we headed straight to our host hotel, the beautiful Park Hyatt Zurich, where we had merely 30 minutes to “freshen up” after a full day’s worth of traveling before heading out for a wonderful 2-hour walking tour to explore the beautiful city. After the tour, we had a really nice wine and cheese happy hour reception back at the hotel. Despite the lack of sleep, a few of us even continued the night by going back to town. Zurich is a very lovely and romantic city, and I really do hope to go back soon (next time, I plan to spend more than 15 hours there).
The next day we headed back to the US by taking a direct flight on Swiss to San Francisco. Prior to boarding, we broke up into smaller groups and were able to participate in a behind-the-scenes tour of Zurich airport, where we got to go down and see the underground baggage operations. The group then met back at the gate prior to departure for a group photo in front of our plane and a nice pre-boarding reception.
When we arrived in SFO, the domestic portion participants were already there waiting for us, and we had an out-of-this-world full-dinner welcome reception at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. The food was amazing – we all were equally impressed. We had a great breakfast spread at the hotel the next morning and then we headed back to SFO to catch our charter (which ended up being United’s brand new 787 Dreamliner) to Houston. The in-flight experience was great. All participants got a neat Rimowa SMD4 amenity kit and a first class in-flight meal (which I wasn’t too crazy about taste-wise, but the idea was nice).
When we arrived in Houston, United & Points Hound put together a unique experience – a Texas BBQ inside the hanger! This was definitely a really fun time to mingle, eat, take photos all around the Dreamliner, and listen to the live country band play. As you can see from some of the photos below, it was an astonishing set-up that looked like it was taken straight from a movie.
After the BBQ, we spent our night at the Hyatt Regency Houston. The hotel was beautiful, but since we arrived at 11 pm from a full day of fun, and had to be on the bus at 5 am the next morning, a few of us decided to just pull an all-nighter in downtown Houston. All in all, I think I spent a total of 30 minutes in my room that night. I still like to joke that I paid $197 (the room rate after taxes) for a shower. Either way, it was a blast.
From Houston, we flew directly to Chicago, where United “put us to work”, meaning they put together a great program, allowing us to have a first-hand experience of what it was to be an airport employee for a day. We were split up into 4 groups based on our program assignments. It was really hard to choose which program to register for because they honestly were so unique and interesting. I ended up going with the Airport Operations Program, where I got to do geeky things like direct planes to the gate, use the de-icing machine, drive a baggage tractor, etc.
By the end of United’s full-day program, we were exhausted, but you can’t expect to sleep on a trip like this that’s jam-packed with so many cool activities. We headed to our hotel for the night, the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg, and we had about an hour to check-in, get settled, and shower. Within no-time we were out the door again to the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Again, we had an over-the-top reception there with plenty of food, drinks, and a chance to mingle face-to-face with United employees that were also invited.
At the program’s conclusion, I called it a night and was proud of myself for getting a full 5 hours of sleep! For our final day on the MegaDo, we bussed downtown very early in the morning to the United Airlines headquarters/corporate offices. We broke up into smaller groups, and we had the chance to have “round-table”-style discussions with some of United’s executives. After those programs concluded, the group “re-united” (how fitting) on the 99th floor of the Willis tower, where we enjoyed amazing views of Chicago, a nice lunch, and most-importantly, United Airline’s CEO, Jeff Smisek, made an appearance.
After the conclusion of the official MegaDo program, the group started dwindling down as the participants were making their way back to ORD to go home. A few of us stuck around for a “Giddy Up”-themed charity dinner later that evening, which was a fun way to unwind. My whole week on the SMD4 zipped so quickly by because I was having such a blast. I’d do it all over again if I could!
Though this was my first MegaDo experience, it will most certainly never be my last. I never say this lightly, but that week honestly made it to the top 3 weeks of my life. There’s nothing better than sharing an obsessive-travel passion with 200 other like-minded individuals, and the best part is that collectively as a group, we’ve raised over $50,000 for our charity partners!
If you want to read more play-by-play MegaDo moments, be sure to check out the official MegaDo blog (you may or may not even see a guest post on there by me…). Special thanks to all of the organizers, volunteers, and friends I’ve made on this trip! Also special thanks to Jonathan (@jonk) for lending me some of your awesome panoramic photos.
Can’t wait till the next!