What does it feel like to be the worlds most frequent flyer?

In his 65 years, Tom Stuker has flown the equivalent distance of 843 times around the world, clocking up nearly 34 million kilometres and making him the human to have flown the furthest on the planet.

The honour is a curious one eliciting more questions than answers: How? Where? Why?

How? All on United. He is the American airline's most distinguished customer, and even has a 747 named after him. Where? Everywhere, including Australia more than 300 times, and every single US state in just 50 days (which earned him first-class travel for a year). Why? Business, initially, then simply for the thrill of the challenge.

"My first commercial flight was 50 years ago at the age of 16. It was a United flight from Chicago to San Antonio," said the car sales consultant. "I started to count the miles when the carriers launched frequent flyer programmes in the early Eighties."

In January this year he broke a record of 20 million miles flown, only to break it again by reaching 21 million in July.
In January this year he broke a record of 20 million miles flown, only to break it again by reaching 21 million in July.

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And there has been plenty to count. In January this year he broke a record of 20 million miles flown, only to break it again by reaching 21 million in July. That's the equivalent of London to New York and back 144 times in six months.

Such a sustained schedule of flying is unattainable, surely? But Stuker makes it happen. A typical week might include seven days of air travel, from Vegas to his home in Newark, to Chicago, United's hub, and on to Tokyo, one of his favourites, to Frankfurt, back to Chicago, then to London and back and to Japan once more. 

He travels for work, as well as pleasure, and when unable to use United flies with its partner airlines in the Star Alliance. He says he purchases "97 per cent" of his flights and uses his vast miles account to book the remainder.

"I love United because they have become a second family," he says. "I have a great personal relationship with hundreds of current and past employees."

Stuker was initially scared of flying. "I eventually got over it and today the worst turbulence might startle me but never worries me. Airplanes are built to take much worse than I have experienced. Over 10,000 flights - zero emergencies."

There have been unusual moments. "Last year I saw a 90-year-old woman screaming in her sleep 'Mummy'." 

He's also flown alongside Janet Jackson, Bill Murray and Steven Tyler and enjoys regular premium-lounge access, free cocktails, and door-to-door executive limousine service. 

​Stuker is aware of the environmental impact of his intense aviation, but says "the plane is going to go with or without me". "I could see the criticism if I were flying on a private plane, but I don't. As far as a carbon footprint, I am very conscious of the environment in every aspect of my life, not just flying."

Between in-flight entertainment, improved airline food and lie-flat beds, he says air travel has never been better. "Sure I miss the days when they served Dom Perignon and caviar [but] flying has gotten much better over the years," he said. 

And yet, despite his jet-set lifestyle, which is his favourite place in the world? New Jersey. Home.

Sunday Telegraph

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