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WASHINGTON — The friendly skies just got a little more welcoming for military families.

United Airlines will donate more than 123 million frequent flyer miles to the Hero Miles program, which supplies free flights to wounded servicemembers and their families.

Nearly 90 percent of the donation comes from United customers who turned over their accumulated frequent flyer bonuses to the military charity. Altogether, the donation will mean nearly 5,000 more free flights for the program’s participants.

The gift was announced Thursday in Chicago, where the airline is headquartered. Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, founder of Operation Home Front, said his group has partnered with Hero Miles to encourage more citizens to donate to the program.

“With the holidays, with the family connection that people are having now, we want to remind the public of this,” he said. “Having family and friends visit someone while in the hospital can help so much on the road to recovery.”

Currently the Hero Miles program, run by the Fisher House Foundation, offers flights on 10 major airlines. To date the program has supplied more than 5,000 round-trip tickets to wounded troops and their families, worth more than $6.5 million.

The program is open to troops injured in combat operations overseas and their families.

Quinn said the new donation will make it easier for families to get flights overseas to places such as Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany because of the availability of more direct flights overseas through United’s routes. Families have made that trip in the past, but it often involved multiple connections and lengthy flights.

Individuals can make donations to the program or download an application for a free airline ticket at: www.fisherhouse.org/programs/heromiles.shtml.

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