Clear, Marriott and United reunite families separated by COVID-19
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It was hard to hold back the tears.
After 14 months — or more — of separation, family after family was reunited on Thursday afternoon. There were hugs, kisses and even grandparents who met their 8-month-old grandchild for the first time.
Many of us may look back at the coronavirus pandemic as the time we were forced to stay at least 6 feet away from each other. But often, that distance was much farther.
Clear, the expedited security program that helps passengers speed through airports, teamed up with Marriott and United Airlines to help bring together a few dozen South Florida families who hadn’t seen their relatives in the New York area for more than a year.
One by one they entered the field of MetLife Stadium as actor Neil Patrick Harris announced their entrance. “We Are Family” was blasting in the background, and confetti canons went off as each new family made their way onto the field, looking for their relatives.
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The event wasn’t just about these families, of course. Dozens of reporters — almost more than the number of reunited family members — were present, and each of the organizers had the same message: It’s time for all of us to reconnect and start traveling again.
“I love watching people hug in airport reunions,” said Caryn Seidman-Becker, CEO of Clear. And since the beginning of the pandemic, she’s wanted to do something to help replicate that feeling.
So she reached out to United, which is a Clear partner, and then Marriott, which is developing a partnership with Clear. (More on that in a moment.)
Clear found the families and on Wednesday United flew up the 50 people on a special flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Newark (EWR) on a Boeing 737-800. The group stayed at the Renaissance New York Chelsea before being bused out to New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium for their first in-person reunions.
“At United, we talk all the time about ‘connecting people,’ and that’s what today is all about,” said BJ Youngerman, the airline’s managing director for market strategy development and strategic initiatives.
After the hugging and the crying, the families were then directed to spaced-out tables on the football stadium’s field, where they had the first meal together in what seemed like ages.
As for that potential partnership between Clear and Marriott, well, neither company would say much except that they’d been talking throughout the pandemic.
But it wasn’t until this event that Clear’s Seidman-Becker and Peggy Fang Roe, Marriott’s global officer for customer experience, loyalty and new ventures, met in person. (Roe is the top executive in charge of the Bonvoy program.)
Currently, Marriott offers Clear’s Heath Pass to meeting organizers at its hotels and is now “looking at what else we might do together,” Roe said.
Marriott polls some of its members each week to see their feelings about travel and Roe notes that they are in “very different places and probably will be for some time.”
“The inertia is sort of keeping people at home,” she added.
So, in many ways, Thursday’s event was about showing folks that travel is possible — and it could help people get ready to take those first steps.
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