United Airlines Salutes Winter Olympians, and Its Own Employees, as Superheroes in New Ads

Flight crew includes director Martin Campbell, composer Brian Tyler

United Airlines

Air Raider. Arctic Angel. King Quad. Storm Tamer. Winged Wonder.

These are some of the “superheroes” appearing in mcgarrybowen’s new United Airlines campaign ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, next month.

We’re not talking about marvels (or even Marvels) who leap tall buildings in a single bound, spin webs from their fingers or dress up as flying mammals. There’s nary a cape, cowl nor magical super-duper-power in sight.

Instead, these heroes fall into two distinct categories: the six U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes sponsored by United (official airline of Team USA) and a half-dozen of the carrier’s own employees responsible for transporting the competitors and their gear to the Games and back. Each subject gets a goofy superhero nickname that references either their chosen Olympic sport or United job description.

Brawny two-time Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Nikko Landeros is “The Fury,” raising a blue-gloved fist and boldly proclaiming “Team USA to South Korea!” in the ad below. When no magical transportation occurs, Olympic bronze medal-winning luger Erin Hamlin—hero name: “The Rocket”—points out, “WE can’t fly. But you know who can…”

… the helpful crew at United, of course! They’ll get our Olympic heroes to the Games on time! (As for the rest of us, well, delays happen, and living at the airport can be fun.)

In the next spot, there’s no in-flight phone booth for superhero-costume changes, so figure skater Nathan Chen, aka “King Quad,” has to improvise:

So, United customer service rep Lemont Penn is really “Departicus.” Whoa, dude!

Among the airline superheroes, they left out United CEO Oscar Munoz. Wise move. To some, he’s more of a super villain. The Re-Accommodator, perhaps? The Overbooker?

Kidding, of course. Just tossing in a little good-natured turbulence.

“The tie between superheroes and Team USA athletes is clear. They are regular people who use their exceptional talents to accomplish the incredible,” says Mark Krolick, vp of marketing at United Airlines. “For close to four decades, our employees have called upon their unique skills—transporting hundreds of thousands of customers every day, while working in rapidly changing weather conditions and providing exceptional service—to give the ‘power of flight’ to Team USA athletes, getting them to competitions around the globe.”

United tapped a pair of Hollywood A-listers, director Martin Campbell (Green Lantern, Goldeneye, Casino Royale) and composer Brian Tyler (The Avengers, Iron Man, The Fast and the Furious), to ensure the campaign flies first class.

“I just thought it was a great idea,” says Campbell in the making-of clip below. “I thought it was pretty unique. We shot in an airport, we shot in a skating rink. And I have to say, it was an exciting experience, even for me.”

“Martin Campbell’s eye for drama is uncanny,” says Haydn Morris, executive creative director at mcgarrybowen, which developed the campaign. “He knew how to bring out the right amount of ‘bigness’ in each shot, giving it a real cinematic quality.”

Here’s a mostly musical clip that focuses on Tyler’s impressively rousing score, recorded with an 80-person orchestra:

Like all classic superheroes, the athletes also get “origin stories.” Here’s one example:

No origin stories for the employees, though. Presumably, they just filled out United applications.

Additional content includes the cast discussing times they’ve felt like superheroes:

They also reveal who they’d want sitting on either side of them during a long flight:

Lucille Ball and Nick Lachey?! Why land?

Next, each star pick his or her favorite superpower:

There’s a sweet, transcendent moment when Olympic silver medalist freeskier Gus Kenworthy chooses invisibility, then quickly changes his mind. “My whole life in the closet, I was like, trying to be invisible,” he says. “And then, since coming out, I feel like my whole life’s been about visibility. So I’d rather fly.”

“For Gus Kenworthy, we had a stunt double that was going to do the harness ‘flip’ in the terminal,” says Morris. “After Gus watched the double do it, he put on the uniform and pushed to do the stunt himself. He nailed it nearly every time!”

Such a doll! In fact, they all are:

Team USA superheroes:
• Gus Kenworthy. Freeskier from Telluride, Colorado and 2014 Olympic silver medalist in slopestyle.
• Jamie Anderson. Snowboarder from South Lake Tahoe, California and 2014 Olympic gold medalist.
• J.R. Celski. Short track speedskater from Federal Way, Washington and 2014 Olympic silver medalist and double bronze medalist at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010.
• Erin Hamlin. Luger from Remsen, New York and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist.
• Nathan Chen. Figure skater from Salt Lake City, Utah.
• Nikko Landeros. Sled hockey player from Johnstown, Colorado and two-time Paralympic gold medalist (2010, 2014).

UA employee superheroes:
– Nancy Barteczko – Pilot
– Lemont Penn – Customer Service Rep
– Mike Murgaditchian – Operations
– Craig Cosentino – Ramp/Baggage
– Michael Turner – Ramp/Wingwalker
– Karla Gonzales De La Torre – Flight Attendant

Agency : mcgarrybowen NY
US Chief Creative Officer : Ned Crowley
Managing Director, Executive Creative Director : Haydn Morris
Group Creative Director : David DiRienz
GCD, writer: Chris Pacetta
Senior Art Director: Dane Alexander
Jr Art Director: David Castillo
Director of Broadcast Production : Dante Piacenza
Executive Producer: Stacy Kay
Senior Art Producer: Kim Stoerker
Senior Producer: Katie West
Managing Director, Global Music Production: Jerry Krenach
Executive Music Producer : Jean Scofield
Managing Director, Account: Christopher Blades
Group Managing Director: Ethel Uy
Executive Director, Strategy: Diane Epstein

Production Company: Saville Productions
Director: Martin Campbell
Executive Producer : Rupert Maconick
Head of Production: Michelle Travinski
Producer: David Moore

Editorial House : Cut + Run NY
Editor : Jon Grover
Senior Producer : Ellese Jobin

Original Music
Composer and Conductor : Brian Tyler
Rhapsody in Blue Composer: George Gershwin
Orchestrator : Max Lombardo and Dana Niu
Score Coordinator: Breton Vivian and James Regan
Engineer and Mixer: Greg Hayes
Music Editor : Joe Lisanti and Kyle Clausen
Music Preparation: Eric Stonerook
Music Contractor and Coordinator : Peter Rotter & Encompass Music Partners
Sound Designer: Stephen Dewey
Executive Producer : Patty Chow Dewery, Machinehead

Music Record: Eastwood Scoring Stage – Warner Bros. Studios
Studio Manager, Warner Bros. Studios: Jamie Olvera

Music Production Company: Mophonics
Executive Creative Director: Stephan Altman
Head of Production: Shelley Altman
Creative Producer: Kristoffer Roggemann
Executive Producer: Amanda Fink
Additional Production: Shea Duncan

Music Mix Engineer: Michael Marinelli, Sonic Union

Visual Effects: Framestore
Producer : Sophie Harrison
VFX Supervisor: Adrian Hurley
VFX : Dez Macleod-Veilleux
Head of Flame: Raul Ortego

Motion Graphics: Sarofsky
Executive Creative Director: Erin Sarofsky
Creative Director: Jens Mebes
Executive Producer: Steven Anderson
Senior Producer: Bryan Haney
Illustrator: Jeremy Roberts

Print Illustrator: Cliff Nielsen

Behind the Scenes Production Company: Bitter Jester Studios
Post Production Services: Periscope Post & Audio and Bitter Jester Studios
Director: Nicolas DeGrazia
Director of Photography: Daniel Kullman
BTS – Superheroes
Editors: Michael Thomas James and Daniel Kullman
Assistant Editor: Zoé Kraft
Re-recording Mixer: John Wong

BTS – Making of the Original Score
Editor: Nicolas DeGrazia
Colorist: C. Ryan Stemple

@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.