Airlines Ask Frequent Flyers to be Heroes

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2007 - Ten airlines are stepping up to the plate for families of injured servicemembers and encouraging their passengers to do the same.

"The president of CNN challenged his staff to do something over Memorial Day weekend," Jim Weiskopf, vice president of communications for the Fisher House Foundation, said. "They looked around at a couple options and they decided that they would like to do a drive to get us more 'Hero Miles.'"

The Fisher House Foundation is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad. It also administers the Defense Department's Hero Miles program, which provides free airline tickets to servicemembers injured during their service in Iraq or Afghanistan and their families.

To get the ball rolling, CNN contacted all 10 of the Hero Miles program's airline partners and asked if they would agree to a challenge. The airlines agreed to match every frequent flyer mile their passengers donate to the program between 6 a.m. May 25 and 11:59 p.m. May 28, Weiskopf said.

"As you might imagine, most of the ticketing we do is all at the last minute because it's all connected to medical emergencies," Weiskopf said. "Normally, the tickets we're getting today are for flights leaving tomorrow and the day after."

If servicemembers' families had to pay out of pocket, those tickets average more than $1,300 each. Considering Hero Miles has provided about 9,800 tickets, that's more than $12 million the program has been able to save servicemembers and their families, Weiskopf said. That's the equivalent of about 450 million miles in the three and a half years since the program began.

While Hero Miles makes sure any family member who wants to be at their servicemember's side can be, it also covers what Weiskopf terms "close friends."

"I use the terminology 'close friends' because if you're young and single, it's nice to have your mother and father there, but you probably really want your boyfriend or girlfriend," he said. "If that will help you recover, we'll bring them in."

The same is true for any other person -- pastor or former coach, for example -- in a servicemember's life who might inspire a speedy recovery, he said. He emphasized, however, that the tickets Hero Miles provides are for medically necessary travel only. Tickets for regular leave requests cannot be accommodated.

Though Hero Miles accepts donations of frequent flyer miles year-round, those who would like to make donations during this weekend when they'll count twice as much can find links on each of the participating airlines' Web sites. AirTran, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Midwest Airlines, Northwest Airlines, United, and U.S. Airways are participating.

Links to these airlines also can be found on the Fisher House Foundation's "Hero Miles" Web page,

"We are so deeply appreciative for the generosity of the American flying public," Weiskopf said. "Individually, (the airlines) have all told us that this is perhaps the most meaningful frequent flyer program that they have been associated with in the history of the airline because (the miles) are going right to the people who need them most.

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