Meet Celine, United's Youngest MileagePlus Member Who's Traveled to 6 Continents by Age 5

Celine Carlson outside in the mountains
Photo: Ryan Carlson

You might think that frequent-flier programs are only for well-traveled adults, but the youngest United MileagePlus Premier member is only five years old.

Celine, a young girl who just started kindergarten, loves to travel with her parents, Shauna and Ryan Carlson. And as of 2018, the whole family became Premier members of United’s loyalty program. United Airlines even celebrated their youngest member with a video post on social media.

So far, Celine has traveled to six continents, 14 countries, and 42 cities, in addition to flying over 250,000 miles on more than 150 flights.

According to her father, Ryan Carlson, Celine officially became a Premier 1K member in late 2018, shortly after turning four years old. Carlson wrote in an email to Travel + Leisurethat Celine’s first flight was only at nine months old, from San Francisco to Chicago O’Hare.

Many education and child development experts have said that traveling as a young person — as young as six months old — can greatly ensure your child is a better “world citizen” as an adult and even help them do better in school. Currently, the kindergartner is learning two languages — Mandarin and Spanish. It looks like Celine is right on track for a bright future.

“From an education perspective, Celine benefits by seeing the world and different cultures firsthand to truly understand them,” Carlson said. “Traveling is important for people to learn about themselves and their abilities, especially in new situations, and I feel that's an important step for people at any age. We don't give Celine too many notions about where we travel to and just let her create her own understandings.”

Celine with the pilots onboard United Airlines flight
Ryan Carlson

At this point, the Carlsons are experts on how to travel with a child. Carlson wrote that before Celine’s first flight, “we had her nap appropriately and also had her use a bottle during takeoff and landing to help her ears adjust.”

He added that Celine has partly become such a good traveler because she “truly loves” to go places, so she’s always on her best behavior. The Carlsons also do a lot of prep work and bring plenty of activities for Celine, which is essential for long-haul flights.

“We have always followed the travel philosophy of 'focus on what we can control,' which means we're always prepared for nap timing, activities, snacks, and seating assignments,” Carlson said. “Celine keeps busy with coloring, stickers, and activity books, but we also read together and do various activities while on the plane, along with sleeping. Electronics are rarely used by Celine, which keeps her mood steady.”

Celine posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
Ryan Carlson

Celine also comes from a family of great travelers. Her father is an independent futures trader, so he can work anywhere he can set his laptop. This means that Carlson will work during some trips and meet up with his wife, Shauna, and Celine once the markets close. Celine's maternal grandparents are also Premier 1K members. The family flies almost exclusively with United.

“Being self-employed is also a big factor in having this flexibility to travel, and the only main restriction is that I only travel on weekends, so I don't miss days the market is open,” Carlson said.

He and Shauna actually met while traveling, during a particularly unique trip to North Korea in 2005. Below is a video from a tour they were both on during this trip.

Celine herself told United that her favorite place to visit is Paris. According to her father, she really wants to visit Italy — mostly for the food and art. So far, the only European trips the family has planned in the next year are to France and Switzerland.

Regardless of where Celine goes, her favorite thing to do when she gets to any destination is “get into the hotel room and jump on the bed first thing.”

Celine at the United Polaris Lounge and Check-in line
Ryan Carlson

“Overall, she likes to see different things that amaze, be out in the world with her parents, and just have lots of fun,” Carlson added. “Travel is an escape from the routines of life, and although she loves her kindergarten class, it's nice to mix things up and live life unstructured.”

As Celine and her family embark on their upcoming journeys, keep in mind that you can also make travel a priority in 2020.

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