Bloomingdale man nears 10 million miles on United

 
By Megan Bannister
mbannister@dailyherald.com
Updated 7/9/2011 9:04 AM
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  • Tom Stuker of Bloomingdale, center, on Saturday will become the first customer ever to fly 10 million miles with United Airlines. When he lands at O'Hare at 5 p.m. he will be welcomed by family, friends and airline officials to celebrate his accomplishment.

    Tom Stuker of Bloomingdale, center, on Saturday will become the first customer ever to fly 10 million miles with United Airlines. When he lands at O'Hare at 5 p.m. he will be welcomed by family, friends and airline officials to celebrate his accomplishment. PR NEWSWIRE

Sometime this afternoon, roughly 600 miles from Chicago, Tom Stuker of Bloomingdale will become the first United Airlines passenger to reach a monumental milestone: 10 million miles in the air.

"I knew it was approaching quickly," said Stuker, who has traveled more than 700,000 miles each year for the past four. "I was looking forward to just getting it over with. Now that it's here, it's kind of overwhelming."

Stuker will not be celebrating alone. His two sons, his brother and sister, and a niece plan to accompany him on the flight from Los Angeles.

A handful of other frequent fliers whom Stuker has never met also are expected to share the ride.

"There's an awful lot of people buying a ticket just to be on the flight," Stuker said of air travel enthusiasts on sites such as flyertalk.com.

When his plane touches down at 5 p.m. at O'Hare International Airport, he will be greeted by family, friends and airline officials for a two-hour reception honoring the airline's most frequent flier.

"He's been a longtime faithful customer of United, and we are incredibly grateful for his loyalty," United Airlines Public Relations Director Rahsaan Johnson said.

Stuker says today's trip is "just another flight," and he's not the one deserving of recognition.

"I really want to publicly acknowledge the people who are really my extended family," Stuker said. "These people, the way they take care of me is unbelievable."

While there are a handful of United frequent fliers with upward of 3 million miles, no one comes close to Stuker's mark, Johnson said.

He's expected to receive some gifts from United, but Johnson wouldn't say what they'll be.

The Chicago-based auto sales consultant hasn't always been an air travel enthusiast. When he started flying 25 years ago, he says he "was scared to death."

Now, logging close to 40 hours of travel each week, he relishes his time at his "office in the sky."

"I find so much peace up there," Stuker said. "I get more creative because there's no distractions, no phone calls."

United Airlines launched its Mileage Plus in 1981, making it one of the oldest frequent flier programs in existence, Johnson said. Although officials are unsure, Stuker, who joined about a year after the program's inception, may be the first passenger on any airline to reach the 10 million-mile mark.

Since he joined the program, he has taken 5,962 United flights, give or take a few.

Stuker initially began traveling for business purposes but has since embraced recreational air travel, spending time on every continent but Antarctica and visiting Australia, a favorite business destination, more than 200 times.

"The best part of travel is the experience you get on the other end of the flight," Stuker said.

And Stuker says he's had plenty of great experiences.

He has completed three trips around the world, the first in eight days with his oldest son, Tim.

In the late 1980s, he took part in a United promotion to visit all 50 states in 50 days, winning a year of free first-class travel.

Stuker has even spent five consecutive days in the air on three separate occasions, meaning close to 20 pre-made airplane meals.

"When I've been eating for five days on the plane, the first thing I look for is a Burger King," said Stuker, admitting there is such a thing as too much first-class fare.

Stuker says there's little he doesn't like about flying, with the possible exception of luggage delays and whiny passengers.

"Life's too short to (complain) about everything," he said.

Adding to his personal acclaim, Stuker will star, alongside his sister Roxy, in the forthcoming Spike TV reality show "Car Boss," set to air in January 2012. The team will have one week to transform a struggling car dealership, an endeavor he describes as "'Hell's Kitchen' with a few less F-bombs."

In nearly every aspect of his life, Stuker's passion for travel has had some influence.

When he met the love of his life 15 years ago after two failed marriages, the couple decided that instead of tying the knot they would embark on at least four honeymoons a year. They've taken between 50 and 60 trips since they began the tradition, most recently at a private villa in Thailand, one of Stuker's favorite locations.

But of all the places Stuker has been, the one he looks forward to most is home.

"I think Chicago is the best city in America," he said. "I think it's the best city in the world, especially if the Cubs are having a winning season."

Maybe in the next 10 million miles.