A family tree at LAX gives way to many United branches - United Hub
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A family tree at LAX with many United branches

By Pete Rapalus, June 14, 2017

When Scott Calkins was a rookie ground service equipment (GSE) maintenance technician at Los Angeles International Airport in 1987, he carpooled with his father Jim, who at the time was a lead technician and had followed his own father, Fredrick, a longtime communications supervisor to work for United. Now, that three-generation United family has added a fourth. When Scott leaves his Santa Clarita home for work every day, his carpool companion is none other than his son Tristin, the newest technician in the shop where Scott now holds the lead position held by his father Jim who retired in 1998 after more than 37 years of service.

Tristin (left) and Scott Calkins (right) pictured above

Tristin joined the team last year in December, so the Calkins can now celebrate Father's Day with four generations of United employees. Tristin says he's already planning to encourage his two sons to pursue maintenance careers at United in Los Angeles.

"We have a history in this family of the men following in each other's footsteps," Scott said. "I know of quite a few multi-generational United families but don't know of any others with four generations in a row, and three in a row in the same shop, on the same shift no less."

When Jim retired he moved to Bishop, in the Owens Valley east of the Sierra Nevada range in California, and Tristin, then 1, and his family began regular visits that continue to this day. "It seemed like we were always fixing something or working on something or just going through grandpa's toolbox when I was growing up," Tristin said. "We also had to work on the boat on Friday if we wanted to go fishing on Saturday," Scott added.

Jim Calkins, father of Scott and grandfather to Tristin Jim Calkins pictured above

Tristin acquired his first automobile at 14, a 1968 Barracuda, and is now restoring a 1968 Ford Bronco (Scott's first car was his father's 1969 Bronco). In high school, Tristin and his best friend both dreamed of becoming police officers or a sheriff's deputy, but over time it became apparent to him that working on cars and other vehicles was his real gift. That passion led him to an automotive degree and eventually a job offer from United.

"Tristin is the only person I know of who went to college with a focus on becoming a GSE mechanic ," said Los Angeles International Airport and Region GSE Senior Manager James Keating, who also worked with Jim. "We have a lot to learn about Tristin, but I feel what we learn is going to be good!"

While working with a family member might create conflict in some families, that wasn't the case with the Calkins. "It helped in my case that I always had a great relationship with my father," Scott said. "Working for him was pretty simple — he expected me not to screw up and to be better and faster than everybody else," he laughs. For Tristin, "I think there is less pressure from the lead being my dad than there is from other people waiting around to see if the lead's son will make a lot of mistakes."

To minimize those opportunities, Scott teamed his son with veteran Technician Dave Legg on many projects, and all agree the relationship has been good for everyone. "Despite their age and experience differences, they're remarkably alike," Scott said. "They've got the same personality and approach to a problem, which is they want it to be done right and not halfway."

Fred Calkins pictured above was the first member of the family to work at United. Fredrick Calkins pictured above

In addition to Fredrick, Jim, Scott and Tristin, the Calkins family tree has even more United branches. Tristin's maternal grandparents, Scott's in-laws, Dave and Olga Shaw, also worked many decades for United at Los Angeles International Airport — Dave in building maintenance and Olga as a secretary and later a customer service representative. Tristin also has several uncles, great-uncles and other extended family members with United service, in Seattle and San Francisco.

In addition to the career bloodline, the men also share a long and proud history of community service. Fredrick volunteered with the Boy Scouts and other organizations, Jim was a reserve with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and, after retirement, served with the Big Pine Volunteer Fire Department. Scott spends much of his free time as a football coach at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, and Tristin has recently joined him on the sidelines coaching cornerbacks. Working the overnight shift seems to agree with them. Neither the 30-year-veteran nor the rookie has any intention of bidding into daytime work.

"I wouldn't be surprised if I end up on it as long as my dad has," Tristin said. Both Scott and Tristin said they enjoyed the planned maintenance work that tends to take place overnight compared to the hectic unpredictability of much day shift work.

"I think Tristin was seven or eight years old before he even realized that I had a job," Scott said. "After all, I was there when he went to sleep at night and there again all day after he woke up. To him it must have seemed like I was always home."

Obviously, the youngster eventually figured it out and then emulated what his dad was doing. "Working the midnight shift doesn't seem unusual to me," Tristin said. "Just like being handy with tools and enjoying troubleshooting and fixing things, it all works for me too."

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

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