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United female pilot inspiring women in Japan workforce

By The Hub team

B-787 captain Debra McCaw's leadership has taken her to great heights—including being featured on Japan's NHK TV "Ohayo Nippon" to discuss inclusive workforces.

Although the number of women in managerial roles in Japanese companies continue to grow, it is far from the government's goal of 30%. This is also true in aviation industry in Japan where there are very few female captains. Meanwhile, the United States is leading the industry with over 1,000 active female captains.

At San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Captain Debra McCaw has been at United Airlines for 34 years. At the time she started, almost all the pilots were men.

As a mother of two, she steadily built up her experience while balancing motherhood and household in partnership with her pilot husband. She learned "the importance of calmness, friendliness, confidence and good communication with each other." All of these are also necessary skills to be a captain, especially when taking care of hundreds of passengers as she does flying Dreamliners.

She says it is most important that a leader is a good listener, to not create a situation where subordinates are scared to ask questions and leaders are not afraid to trust their subordinates. Leaders should be able to create an environment in which colleagues can freely communicate with each other.

As leaders, pilots must also be quick thinking. During a flight, there are times when their determination is put to the test. When a passenger falls sick mid-flight, McCaw must work closely with airport teams and make decisions quickly, as well as communicate effectively. In these situations, she says that she keeps the passenger in mind when making cabin announcements. "I imagine that my family and friends are on board. I share what I would want to know and give information honestly."

McCaw is making herself known for enthusiastically sharing her story and wisdom. In 2018, she spoke at a symposium in Japan on careers for women. She told the young students to be confident and to "do what you love and love what you do." With so many of the students inspired by her words, we won't be surprised to see at least of few of them flying in the skies soon.

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DAV Winter Sports Clinic empowers disabled veterans

By Ryan Hood

Heath Calhoun was severely wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee while serving in Iraq, resulting in the amputation of both of his legs above the knee.

Jon Lujan was also injured while serving in Iraq, and the subsequent surgery damaged his spinal cord, causing permanent nerve damage and paralysis in his lower legs that restricts his movement and left him with no feeling below his knees.

Both Calhoun and Lujan overcame their disabilities to become Team USA Paralympic skiers. Their post-injury athletic careers began at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen, Colorado. The clinic, which began in 1987, hosts veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological conditions and other disabilities for a week of training and rehabilitation. The clinic empowers these American heroes to defy the perceived limitations by participating in adaptive sports that improve their overall health and outlook.

Every year, United flies hundreds of veterans, along with their family members and coaches, to Aspen for the week-long clinic. This year, Calhoun and Lujan returned to Aspen for the first time in years, back to where the rest of their lives originally began.

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A captain's dream comes true

By Gladys Roman

SFO Boeing 787 Captain Al Langelaar was only 5 years old when his parents, survivors of WWII, decided to emigrate to the United States from the Netherlands in search of a better life.

"My parents grew up during the Nazi occupation. They were about 10 years old when the war broke out, and when they met later in life and had me, they didn't have a lot of money," recalled Al. "I remember my aunt dropping us off, us getting on a boat, and going inside a cabin to go on this journey across the Atlantic. We had really bad weather, and I got sick inside the cabin. That's basically all I remember."

It was Jan. 31, 1962, when Al and his parents arrived in New Jersey and then took a train to Pasadena, California, where they settled to start their new life.

"My parents didn't speak English, I didn't speak English, they were starting a new life and they worked hard," Al said.

The value of hard work is a lesson that he never forgot, and he knew he would have to work even harder the day he fell in love with airplanes.

"I was 18 years old, and one day a friend from school told me his dad had a small airplane and invited me to go up with him," Al recalled. "Once we were up in the air, he told me he knew some airline pilots. I asked him, 'How do you become an airline pilot?' And the next day I took my first flight lesson. I worked nights stocking shelves at a grocery store to pay for my flying lessons."

After working for several small commuter airlines, Al's career led him to United, and after 34 years of flying the friendly skies, he realized almost all of his dreams had come true. Just one thing was missing.

"I always dreamed of flying to my home country," he said.

Then, finally, the opportunity came. In August 2018, we announced new service between SFO and AMS (Amsterdam). When he heard the news, Al was enrolled in training to fly a Boeing 787 aircraft and wrote to Oscar asking him for the opportunity to be the captain for our inaugural flight.

"It would be an honor for me to fly this inaugural flight and represent United Airlines. My ties to the Netherlands are still strong, I speak fluent Dutch. I am proof positive that hard work and perseverance pay off, no matter how humble your beginnings," Al wrote. To his surprise, his request was granted, and on March 30, his dream came true.

"I actually teared up when my chief pilot notified me that I would have the chance to fly this route," said Al. "I wasn't expecting it. I know it's a very big deal. I know it takes a lot of coordination and trust, and It was just an honor to learn that they were going to put me on the flight and give me the opportunity to represent United on our very first flight from San Francisco to Holland."

After arriving at AMS, he returned to the neighborhood where he grew up, reuniting with the same aunt who drove him and his parents to the boat that took them to the United States 57 years ago.

"As we crossed the Dutch coastline and descended over the tulip fields just starting to bloom, the landscape looked familiar, but from a vantage point I never thought I would see," added Al. "The whole experience exceeded my wildest dreams."

From near paralyzation to 7-minute miles

By Ryan Hood

Twelve years ago, Dylan Batz couldn't walk or talk. A seizure when he was in the eighth grade robbed him of those motor skills and hospitalized him for two months.

His mom, Denver-based United 737 Captain Suzanne Batz, didn't know if he'd ever walk again.

No one could've predicted what happened next.

Dylan got out of the hospital, eventually re-learning how to walk and talk. Through Special Olympics, he became an avid runner. He hasn't stopped since, having run three marathons and, this past weekend, completing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon in 1:40. Watch his inspirational story above.

Ode to a flight pioneer

By Matt Adams

With all she's seen and done over a century on this earth, some of Betty Stockard's fondest memories are of the years she spent slipping its surly bonds.

Seventy-seven birthdays have passed since she took to the skies for United as one of the first non-nurse flight attendants in our history, but you wouldn't know it talking with her today as she prepares to celebrate her 100th birthday. Betty's recollections of that time, when she was a 23-year-old searching for excitement and a life to call her own, are crystal clear, her stories conjuring a vivid, gorgeous image of the golden era of aviation.

Born near Kalispell, Montana, on May 16, 1919 as Elizabeth Jean Riley, becoming an aviation pioneer was the furthest thing from Betty's mind growing up. As she recalled, her only brushes with flight back then occurred when the occasional small airplane would appear in the sky above the family homestead. But following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Betty, like most Americans, wanted to contribute to the war effort. She packed her bags, moved to Seattle and took an administrative job at the Boeing plant where thousands of bombers would soon roll off the assembly lines.

She had been there for about two months when she saw an item in the Seattle Times announcing United was looking for a new crop of flight attendants. For years, airlines had only hired nurses into those roles, but with more and more of them now needed in combat zones, that was no longer the case. Despite having never stepped foot on an airplane, Betty applied.

What followed was a whirlwind. After meeting with United personnel managers in Seattle, she took her first-ever flight for a second round of interviews in San Francisco. Two weeks later she received a telegram instructing her to report to Chicago, where she joined 24 other women from across the country for six weeks of intense training, heavy on first aid and safety.

"The instructors told us not to smile much because it was a serious job," remembered Betty. "They wanted us to maintain a professional attitude.
"But the stuff about not smiling didn't last long once I was on an airplane myself."

As Betty put it, being a stewardess in those days was nearly on par with being a movie star, and she often rubbed shoulders with celebrities and dignitaries, like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and silver screen idol Clark Gable, on her trips up and down the West Coast. But it wasn't all glitz and glamour and grins.

Flight attendants in the mid-1940s were just as busy serving their country as they were serving their customers. United flew many military men during World War II, and flight crews were responsible for looking after them. And, at least in Betty's case, those wartime duties included a little intrigue as well.

In the summer of 1945, after checking in for a flight from San Francisco to Seattle, her dispatcher told her that two men from the U.S. Army were waiting for her in the next room. They handed Betty a small, brown package and instructed her to pin it inside her jacket until she arrived in Seattle, where another Army representative would meet her. In the meantime, they warned, she was not to open the parcel or tell anyone she had it.

The aircraft landed in Seattle just after 2 a.m. and taxied to a dark corner of the airfield. There, a military man came on board, took the package, and promptly departed, leaving Betty to wonder what she had just been part of.

Secret missions aside, Betty was smitten with life in the air. She'll still tell you it was the best job in the world. Soon, though, she found herself equally smitten with a handsome former fighter pilot by the name of Ray Stockard, whom she met during a flight in 1946.

Ray was traversing the country interviewing for jobs with commercial airlines, and the two hit it off immediately, beginning a courtship shortly after. Betty adored Ray, but it was a bittersweet romance, for she knew if she got married she'd be trading one love for another since, at that time, stewardesses had to be single.

Alas, the heart wants what it wants, and Betty and Ray, who by that time was flying for Pan American, set a wedding date. Originally, they were to wed in May of 1947, but that spring, United announced it would begin service to Honolulu that summer. Betty talked Ray into briefly postponing the nuptials so that she could enjoy her last months as a flight attendant on the Hawaiian route.

"I hated giving up flying, but I knew I was making the right move," she said. "I was looking forward to the next chapter."

Fortunately, marrying a pilot meant she didn't have to walk away from the industry altogether. In the years that followed, she, Ray and their four children – Joe, Denise, Ed and Dick – traveled the world together. And while they did most of that flying on Pan Am, Betty never lost her soft spot for United, the airline where it all started. She still flies United, in fact, and still enjoys meeting flight attendants on her journeys, though she rarely, if ever, tells them about her past, preferring instead to ask them questions about themselves.

When you are lucky enough to get her talking about herself, though, she doesn't disappoint. Betty's stories are riveting, and she's been known to dispense a kernel of wisdom or two if pressed. So, what's the best advice she gives after 100 years of a rich, full life? Value education and relationships above all else, travel as much as possible, and be fearless in your pursuits.

"It's been such a good life," she said. "I couldn't have asked for a more interesting career. I still carry with me the memories of the people I met on airplanes and the places I went. If there's a lesson there, it's that you should get out and do things and not be afraid to try. By doing that, I've had one of the best lives ever."
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Ms. Fix-it

By Matt Adams

Yolanda Gong had been awaiting this challenge all day. As fellow competitors looked on, she took a pipette and carefully removed lubricant from a jet engine, then injected it into a handheld machine to analyze its viscosity, a process that aircraft maintenance technicians use to gauge an engine's health. She moved quickly with a steady hand and steely confidence, and if you watched her closely, you would have caught a glimpse of who she was, back in a laboratory in another life, when she was living someone else's dream.

Each participant was allotted 15 minutes, which was 11 minutes and 44 seconds longer than Gong needed. It was the fastest time recorded at last spring's Aerospace Maintenance Competition – which draws civilian, military and student technicians from all over the country, all vying for coveted bragging rights – where she captained the team from West Los Angeles College. The oil analysis was just one event in which she and her teammates competed over the course of three days, during which Gong impressed a lot of people, including the members of United's all-female "Chix Fix" team, who were also there.

"When I saw her on stage receiving awards, I knew Yolanda would make a good addition to the United team, not to mention a strong competitor for Chix Fix," says United's San Francisco-based Airframe Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bonnie Turner. "Her professionalism and talent caught my attention that day, and I've been thrilled to have her as a technician."

In September, after earning her airframe and powerplant license, Gong was hired by United to work at its San Francisco maintenance base as an Aircraft Interior Repair Tech. To Gong, meeting Turner and the women of Chix Fix was serendipity; a chance encounter that led to a life-changing opportunity. But that's not entirely true. She might have been in the right place at the right time, but make no mistake – her success is a byproduct of effort and ability. She's doing what she was meant to do, though it took her traveling an unconventional path to get to this place of self-realization.

Growing up, Gong's mother and father steered her toward a more genteel career. In their minds, she would become a doctor or a lawyer. In other words, something "suitable for a woman," a notion that rankled their mechanically-inclined daughter. In the end, Gong settled on medicine for many of the same reasons she would eventually move into aircraft maintenance.

"I was interested in how the body works," she says. "I like systems and puzzles, looking at causes and effects."

She completed her pre-med studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, but when it came time to take the MCAT and apply to medical school, Gong found herself at a crossroads. She realized her own goals were more important than the ones someone else had set for her, and she certainly wasn't going to let something like expectations based on gender stand in her way. After some soul searching, she enrolled in West Los Angeles College's aviation technology program, where she was one of only four women in a class of around 30 students.

"I've always wanted to know how to use tools and do things for myself," says Gong. "And I never paid attention when someone told me, 'You can't do that.' I've always said, 'Well, let me try.'"

Over the past few months since graduating, Gong has been a rising star at United. She's even set to return to the Aerospace Maintenance Competition in April, this time as part of team Chix Fix, where she and her colleagues plan to show what they can do.

"It's likely there will be a shortage of technicians soon," Gong says, "so I want to make sure women know opportunities are here for them. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't love. The only thing stopping you from doing what you want is your belief in yourself. It's incredibly freeing when you stop caring what other people think and just do it."
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