When it comes to the art of air travel, this frequent flyer knows a thing or two.
Tom Stuker, 69, from New Jersey, holds the title for being the world’s most frequent flyer, with 23 million miles under his seatbelt.
The married father-of-two got the travel bug after purchasing a lifetime pass with United for $290,000 in 1990 and he has been jet setting around the world in seat 1B – his favorite – ever since.
The pass, which is no longer available, enables holders of unlimited first class travel on any of the carrier’s flights worldwide and Stuker deemed it the ‘best investment of my life.’
Tom Stuker, 69, from New Jersey, holds the title for being the world’s most frequent flyer, with 23 million miles under his seatbelt
The married father-of-two got the travel bug after purchasing a lifetime pass with United for $290,000 in 1990 and he has been jet setting around the world in seat 1B ever since
The pass, which is no longer available, enables holders of unlimited first class travel on any of the carrier’s flights worldwide and Stuker deems it the ‘best investment of my life’
In a bid to help others navigate the skies, Stuker has revealed some of his insider secrets including how to increase your chances of an upgrade and why you should never check a bag.
Speaking to The Washington Post, he says he always pretends to know the first flight attendant he sees when he boards the plane.
He explains that that person will likely be the head attendant and the best person to befriend if you want some VIP treatment.
Revealing his plane spiel, he said: ‘I always say, “I remember you! You gave us such great service last time. I want to thank you again.”‘
Even if he has never met them, Stuker says this greeting is a guaranteed way of getting ‘all kinds of free stuff.’
When it comes to where you’re sat on the plane, if you can’t book a particular seat, Stucker recommends checking the seat map app as you are boarding.
If a booked seat suddenly becomes free and it’s better than the one you’ve been allocated, he says the cabin crew ‘won’t care’ if you take it.
Addressing plane etiquette, Stuker says one of his biggest pet hates is people who use cell phones without wearing headphones.
If someone takes a long business call on speaker, Stuker says his response is always: ‘Hey, next time you’re going to have all of us to your business meeting, bring donuts.’
On the luggage side of things, his absolute no-no is checking a bag as traveling with cabin baggage only with save you precious time.
On the luggage side of things, his absolute no-no is checking a bag as traveling with cabin baggage only with save you precious time
Stuker gets away with his globetrotting because his school teacher’s wife, Darlene, adores flying almost as much as he does
Stuker pictured with a friend at United’s first lounge in London
He highlights that ‘every town has laundromats… and stores,’ so you can reuse clothing and purchase anything you might have forgotten.
Stuker isn’t a big social media user, but he occasionally posts to Instagram where he uses the handle @ua1flyer.
In one post he touches on plane food.
The 23-million-mile man: Frequent flyer Tom Stuker’s travel tips
- Pretend to know the first flight attendant you see: It’s guaranteed to get you freebies
- Check the seating map: If your preferred seat comes free, the cabin crew ‘won’t care’ if you take it
- Cabin baggage only: Not checking in a bag saves precious time
- Don’t take a business call on speaker: It’s Stuker’s biggest plane etiquette no-no
He wrote in a photo caption: ‘As you can imagine, I ate a lot of my meals on airplanes. I’m often asked which my favorite is, and hands down it’s the lobster mac-n-cheese!’
In another post he reveals that the United Polaris Lounges, which are available to premium cabin travelers, have a great selection of cocktails with his favorite being the Paper Airplane, the Lavender Lift, and Mai Tai.
On a less savory note, Stuker says he has seen it all on planes – including four deaths from heart attacks.
He recalled: ‘I’d met a couple of them too. Just died right in their seats. The last guy was up in business with me, Chicago to Narita (Tokyo).
‘They covered him with a blanket and put the seat belt back on. What else could they do? I guarantee somebody in business was thinking, “Hey, if he’s not gonna eat his chocolate sundae, would you mind…?”‘
When he’s not up in the air, Stuker is the co-founder of Automotive Training Network, a successful international car sales consultancy with outlets in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia.
However now that he is semi-retired he has even more time for jet-setting.
Over the years, some of his travel milestones include hitting the 10-million mark in 2011, which prompted United to name a 747 after him.
Then, in 2019, there were more celebrations including mid-air champagne toast and a welcome reception in Los Angeles when he became the first passenger to fly 20 million miles with United.
Stucker unearthed a photo showing him on his very first flight with United
‘As you can imagine, I ate a lot of my meals on airplanes. I’m often asked which my favorite is, and hands down it’s the lobster mac-n-cheese!’
Summing up what travel means to him, Stuker said on his flight celebrating the 20-million-mile mark: ‘At the end of the day, it’s not about the places I go, it’s about the people I meet’
He said that was also his best year overall and he hopped on 373 flights that totaled 1.46 million miles.
In cash, he revealed that these journeys would have collectively cost him $2.44 million.
For years, he has been a member of the airline’s secretive Global Services club, which travelers are invited to join once they have notched up four million flying miles.
He has his own special check-in station, with a back door to the front of the security queue, as well as VIP airport lounges, which provide free fine dining, spa treatments and even sleeping quarters.
Stuker could even have someone to carry his bags if he wanted, but says that makes him feel like an invalid.
He has a special phone number to contact the airline if anything goes wrong, but they monitor his journeys anyway. Sometimes, he is picked up or dropped off on the runway in a luxury, chauffeured car so that he doesn’t miss flights.
His all-black, titanium frequent-flyer card is unique, but he rarely has to show it as everyone tends to know who he is.
Some wives might have something to say about a husband and father who chooses to spend so much time away – indeed, he has been attacked by airline ‘trolls.’
They are just ‘jealous,’ he previously said.
“I would put my relationship with my wife against any couple in the world – totally in love,” the 69-year-old added.
Stuker gets away with it because his school teacher’s wife, Darlene, adores flying almost as much as he does.
They have flown millions of miles together and they once zipped over to London for a weekend to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Summing up what travel means to him, Stuker said on his flight celebrating the 20-million-mile mark: ‘At the end of the day, it’s not about the places I go, it’s about the people I meet.’