Total Solar Eclipse, a Breathtaking Sight - United Hub
Employee Travel Blog

Total solar eclipse, a breathtaking sight

By The Hub team, August 18, 2017

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By London-based Flight Attendant Rebecca Robbins

As the U.S. prepared for the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21, I, too, planned my own trip to witness what was surely one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles in Mother Nature's extensive repertoire.

I can directly attribute my excitement for total solar eclipses to my job as a flight attendant: I vividly remember in late 1994 - just 18 months after I began my flying career with United - encountering a group of very excited passengers boarding a flight I was working. Having an inquisitive nature, I asked them, "Where are you going? What is all the equipment for?" They replied, "We're going to see the total solar eclipse in Chile!" With those words, a seed was sown deeply and irretrievably in my consciousness, a seed that in future years would take on a life of its own when I would myself become an occasional eclipse chaser.

There is no other way of describing it: To witness a total solar eclipse is breathtaking and humbling. Here is my story of the total solar eclipse I was so fortunate to see in 2015.

It was March 20, 2015, and we were bobbing around in the Norwegian Sea somewhere east of Iceland and north of the Faroe Islands.

Why there and why then? Every so often it happens that in the normal course of their current orbit, the earth and moon align with the sun to create the perfect conditions for something very, very special: a total solar eclipse. On this particular occasion, it coincided with both a supermoon and the spring equinox.

So it was that, in 2015 after negotiating hurricane force 12 winds on our way to reach the area closest to the greatest eclipse and greatest duration, now that the big day had finally arrived, I drew back the curtains at 6 a.m. in great anticipation and ventured excitedly outside.

My heart sank to find leaden, heavily overcast skies where we were hoping for cloudless blue. Instead, we had snow. With little under two-and-a-half hours to go before "first contact," the very special moment when the moon begins its passage over the face of the sun, all we could do was hope that we might be lucky and that something miraculous would happen. I asked the clouds to kindly go away and retreated inside for a cup of steaming hot coffee as I wished for the skies to clear, deciding that a positive mindset was the only order of the day: I truly believed it was possible.

dark skies with the outline of the moon before totality

An hour later, it became apparent that dreams really can come true. I could see a slight thinning of the clouds -- things were definitely looking up!

Sure enough, as the first moment of "contact" between moon and sun arrived, the clouds had thinned sufficiently for us to see this long-awaited, momentous event. There it was: a small crescent of the mighty sun disappearing as the relatively tiny moon arrived right on time to begin blotting out its fiery counterpart, seemingly nibbling away at the sun's surface second by second, almost imperceptibly.

As the eclipse progressed over the course of the next hour, we were overjoyed to see the clouds becoming ever thinner. Noticing a large patch of blue sky a little way off, I felt curiously confident that, with gentle winds now blowing in the right direction, this cloud-free spot could actually coincide with the moment we were waiting for... and indeed it did. With the moon moving farther and farther over the face of the sun, the temperature started to fall. By now, the penumbra (the dimmer shadow of the moon cast by the many points of the sun) was very apparent. The penumbra is experienced to some degree in all places that see the partial eclipse. It was as if twilight was falling at 9:30 a.m. Magical.

Those leaden skies of the early morning had almost gone, and the last sliver of sun was clearly visible, a tiny crescent of light: an amazing vision in itself, but what came next was just breathtaking.

I could hardly believe it: The eclipsing sun was now seen in a patch of clear, blue sky. After earlier fears that this marvel of astronomy - so anticipated for many, many months, even years - would be hidden by thick clouds, we watched almost with our breath held as the moon made its final progression over the face of the sun. First, the beautiful "diamond ring" as the last visible rays of sun shone between the deep ridges and valleys of the moon's surface (Baily's beads), then ... totality! The moon eclipsed the sun completely. The only sound was a spontaneous, collective gasp of wonder from everyone gathered there.

In an instant, we were plunged into nighttime as the moon's actual shadow, the umbra, passed directly overhead and all light from the sun was obscured. Now it was possible to take off the protective glasses needed during the partial eclipse and observe features of the sun it is not possible to see with the naked eye.

Around the circumference of the moon, the sun's searing chromosphere could be seen, blazing prominences firing from its surface. Totally lost in the moment, this sight was so magnificent, I felt entirely overwhelmed by its beauty and tears of joy flowed uncontrollably down my face.

Totality of the solar eclipse

The sun's corona could be seen streaming away from the surface of the sun (as seen in my photo) extending thousands of miles above the surface of the star. It's been determined that the corona can reach super-heated temperatures greater than 1,000,000°C (1,800,000°F).

In the darkness of daytime, stars and planets appeared, the temperature plummeted and it was impossible not to feel deeply thankful at that moment for the light and warmth that the sun provides us day in and day out with no expectation of gratitude. For a while, time seemed to stand still as we stared in wonder at the incredible scene playing out before us. Sadly, after a glorious two minutes and 46 seconds, it was time for the planet to move on.

For a while, it was possible to observe the moon progressing away. Seeing the planet quietly moving on was a little like waving off an old friend after a long-anticipated, particularly joyful reunion, and I couldn't help but feel rather sad that the moment was now over.

Curiously at this point the clouds returned and began in wisps to hide the diminishing eclipse from view. Before long, they had covered it and we were left with only thoughts and memories of a most majestic and unforgettable event.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, with nothing else to see, I headed off to get a celebratory and warming cup of mulled wine and a couple of sausage and bacon sandwiches. But then, whilst most people headed off to the warmth of the bar or to their cabin to grab a sneaky, mid-morning snooze before lunch, I felt unable to allow the moon to finish its eclipse without an audience. Just as I will sit in the cinema at the end of a film to watch the entire credits roll, I wanted to see this show through to the very end in gratitude to the moon for an awe-inspiring performance. Seemingly taking pity on my terrestrial pathos, the clouds offered me a parting gift and drew back to reveal the final moments of the eclipse as if in a final ovation. Back out on deck, leaning on the ship's rail, with the sea foaming noisily below as we headed toward our next destination and with the sun now gently warming my face, I stared up at those two celestial bodies - still partially aligned - for several minutes more until thick, grey clouds literally brought the curtain down on this wondrous show, and for the second time that day it began to snow. The chilly wind sent me scurrying back inside to contemplate the immensity of what I had witnessed. I wondered where the little moon was heading all alone. Two nights later I found out and I will share that with you soon.

At the end of eclipse day, the sun shining through the clouds.

This most stunning spectacle left me in a state of disbelief, and for the remainder of the day I drifted around in a daze, unable to stop reflecting on what we had seen and our extreme good fortune that the weather had been so very favorable. This was due in no small part to the navigational expertise of our ship's captain under the guidance of our brilliant astronomer on board, Pete Lawrence, who had spent many evenings poring over weather projections for a small, remote zone close to the area of maximum totality/maximum duration where the weather was, naturally, largely unpredictable. Fortunately we had the advantage of being aboard a very powerful ship, so we were able to change our position overnight. Eclipse chasers, literally. It could easily have become an unsuccessful game of cat and mouse, but Pete's brilliant foresight took us to exactly where we needed to be and we are all indebted to his tireless efforts on our behalf.

Long after the event, I still find myself pondering on it. I had never imagined that I would be there in that remote place, at that time, to see the remarkable sight. How fortunate indeed I was. On a much greater scale, the knowledge that in years to come this simply won't be possible makes me very philosophical. We do not notice it, but the moon is actually moving away from earth at a rate of almost four centimeters per year, meaning that at some time in the future, total solar eclipses as seen from our earth will cease to be. The perfect alignment of planet and star will still occur, but the relative size of the moon will be too small when seen from the earth to cover the face of the sun in its entirety and only an annular eclipse will be seen, a ring of light around the moon. But don't worry, you still have plenty of opportunity to seek out a total solar eclipse, as this won't happen for approximately 563 million years from now.

We live in times that are more fortunate than we know. Above us, the planets' infinite orbital course continues uninterrupted. The sun and the moon don't even know how special they are, they just do what they have always done. After the glorious eclipse of March 2015, I returned to terra firma, literally and metaphorically (well, almost). Back home, the usual routine resumed for me, too, but I found myself somehow changed by the experience. For whilst the timing and occurrence of the eclipse was a certainty, having traveled to the middle of the ocean and with the best will in the world, there was no guarantee that we would actually see it. But see it we did, and it was (believe it or not, in spite of my ramblings) beautiful beyond words and something I would recommend anyone to try to see once in a lifetime.

Just as I put all my trust in the simple belief that it could indeed be possible for this eclipse to manifest itself to me, I approach the future with the same optimism. If I dare to venture into those places to which my mind guides and tempts me, be they actual locations or ideas in my imagination, why should I not believe that wonderful things can happen there? I just need to go, see, do and believe. With that in mind, I'll share with you a passage by W.H.Murray from "The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, 1951" that sums up precisely how I am left feeling by this moment:

"We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money, booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

"Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way." In common, contemporary parlance, "Just do it."

I feel so very fortunate that my chosen career with United affords me endless opportunity for discovery and a constant wellspring of inspiration in the form of the people I meet in the course of my everyday work, both colleagues and customers. It has been almost a quarter of a century since I began flying, and in that time I have been taken to adventures I never imagined. My life changed forever that day I first put on my uniform, and whilst I am no longer able to physically fit into it, I carry with me always the magic it bestowed on me, opening my eyes to potential far beyond my view. All I have to do is reach out my arms and take flight.

Looking back at a landmark year with Special Olympics

By Ryan Wilks, October 19, 2020

Earlier this summer, we shone a light on our flagship partnership with Special Olympics and our commitment to the Inclusion Revolution. In that same story, we introduced you to our four Special Olympics Service Ambassadors, Daniel, Kyle, Lauren and Zinyra (Z), who, this month, celebrate one year working at Chicago O'Hare International Airport as part of the United family.

This groundbreaking, inclusive employment program took off as a part of our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics, a community relationship that employees across the company hold close to heart. The original 'UA4' (as they call themselves) have become an integral part of the United team serving customers at O'Hare Airport. Even from behind their masks, their wide smiles and effervescent spirit exude and bring life to the service culture of excellence we strive towards every day.

"The UA4 are more than just customer service ambassadors. They are shining examples of how inclusion, accessibility and equity can have monumental impacts on the culture and service of a business and community," said Customer Service Managing Director Jonna McGrath. "They have forever changed who we are as a company. While they often talk about how United and this opportunity has changed their lives, they have changed ours in more ways than we can count."

In the two years of partnership with Special Olympics, United employees have volunteered over 10,500 hours of service at events around the world and donated over $1.2 million worth of travel to the organization.

"This inclusive employment program is what community partnerships, like ours with Special Olympics, are all about: collaborating to identify areas where the needs of the community intersect with the cultural and business opportunity, then creating the infrastructure and programming to bring the two together," said Global Community Engagement Managing Director Suzi Cabo. "Through this program, our goal is to show other companies that when you put a committed effort and focus towards inclusion and breaking down barriers, you transform lives. I challenge other business around the world to follow our lead in joining the Inclusion Revolution."

Check out the video below to hear from our Special Olympics Service Ambassadors firsthand.

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Spotlighting our own during Hispanic Heritage Month

By The Hub team, October 13, 2020

We celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 th through October 15th and take the time to recognize the important contributions of our colleagues of Hispanic descent in the United family.

This year, we hosted virtual events organized by our multicultural business resource group UNITE to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, covering topics ranging from immigration reform to Hispanic leadership. We're also taking a moment to highlight Latinx employees nominated by their peers for their contributions both at and outside of work.

These nominees have demonstrated leadership in their position and through their character. Take a moment to read their own words about how their background and heritage plays a role in the way they interact with customers, in how they support their colleagues and why it brings valuable perspective to their work.

Vania Wit – VP & Deputy Counsel

Photo of Vania Wit, VP & Deputy Counsel for United Airlines

"I am the Vice President and Deputy General Counsel in the legal department. I am an attorney and have worked in the legal department for over 21 years and am currently responsible for a number of different legal areas – such as litigation, international, commercial and government contracts, labor, employment and benefits, antitrust. I have the privilege of working with a tremendous team of attorneys who are directly leading and managing these areas. One of the things I like most about my job is simply getting to know the backgrounds and personal stories that everyone has about their paths to United or their passion for the industry. Being the daughter of immigrants from South America and growing up in a family who relies heavily on air travel to connect us to our close family and friends is an integral part of my story and what drew me to this industry and this company."

Kayra Martinez – International Flight Attendant, FRA

Photo of Kayra Martinez on board an aircraft

"I love that my work as a flight attendant brings me all over the world and allows me to connect with diverse people across the globe. Because of my Spanish heritage, I've been able to use my language as a way to connect with passengers, crew members and people from every nationality. In addition, my heritage gives me a very close connection to family, creating community and using inclusion as a way to bring people together. After transferring to Europe, I was able to study German, more Spanish, Italian and Arabic. Outside of work, I'm the director and founder of a nonprofit organization that empowers refugees through art. Hundreds of children and adults fleeing war-torn countries have found healing through my art workshops. These refugees are currently displaced in Greece. Their stunning paintings are then sold in art galleries and communities around the world, raising awareness and putting income directly into the hands of refugee artists."

Adriana Carmona – Program Manager, AO Regulatory Compliance

Photo of Adriana standing in front of a plane engine

"I've been incredibly lucky to have amazing leaders during my time at United who have challenged me from day one to think outside the box, step out of my comfort zone and trusted me to own and deliver on the tasks assigned. I think this sense of ownership is largely shaped by my Latino background, which values responsibility, respect and accountability and taking full charge of what's in your control to be able to deliver accordingly."

Harry Cabrera – Assistant Manager, AO Customer Service, IAH

Photo of Harry Cabrera

"My desire to help people is what drove me to start my career in Customer Service over two decades ago. Currently I provide support to our coworkers and customers at IAH , the gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. As a Colombian native celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, I'm proud to see the strength that my fellow Latinos forge every day at United Airlines. Family values are a cornerstone of the Latin community; I consider my coworkers to be part of my extended family. Mentor support throughout the years gave me the opportunity to grow professionally. The desire to do better and help others succeed is part of that heritage. I collaborate with our Latin American operations and create ways to improve performance. No matter what language you speak, the passion for what you do and being approachable makes the difference in any interaction."

Juciaria Meadows – Assistant Regional Manager, Cargo Sales

Photo of Juciaria Meadows in a Cargo hold

"During my 28-year career, I've worked across the system in various frontline and leadership roles in Reservations, Customer Service and Passenger Sales in Brazil. I moved to the U.S. in 2012 to work as an Account Executive for Cargo. It did not take too long for me to learn that boxes and containers have as much a voice as a passenger sitting in our aircraft. My job is to foster relationships with shippers, freight forwarders, cosignees, etc. and build strong partnerships in fair, trustworthy and caring ways where United Cargo will be their carrier of choice. That's where my background growing up in a Latino family plays an important role in my day-to-day interactions. I've done many wonderful sales trainings provided by United and my academic background , but none of them taught me more than watching my parents running their wholesale food warehouse. Developing exceptional relationships with their customers, they always treated them with trust and respect. They were successful business people with a big heart, creative, always adding a personal touch to their business relationships and I find myself doing the same. It's a lesson that is deep in my heart."

Shanell Arevalo – Customer Service Representative, DEN

Photo of Shanell Arevalo at work

"I am Belizean and Salvadoran. At a young age my family moved to California from Belize. Although I grew up in the United States , one thing my parents taught me was to never forget the culture, values and principles I was raised on. This includes showing love, compassion, and respect to all people. We learned to put our best foot forward for any situation and always put our heart and mind into everything we do. In my position as a customer service agent, it's the difference of showing the love, compassion and respect to our passengers to show that this is not just a job but rather a passion of genuinely caring for our people. Being Latina, we are raised to always take care of our family, and the way I take care of passengers is the way I would take care of my family. If there's one way I know I can make a difference with our Spanish speaking passengers, it's being able to speak the language. The glow that comes over a passenger's face when they realize there's someone who can speak Spanish is absolutely an indescribable feeling. With that glow comes comfort and joy. The small comfort they get from knowing someone can connect with them makes all the difference in their experience."

Around the web

United Cargo responds to COVID-19 challenges, prepares for what's next

By The Hub team, September 30, 2020

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, United Cargo has supported a variety of customers within the healthcare industry for over 10 years. Three key solutions – TempControl, LifeGuard and QuickPak – protect the integrity of vital shipments such as precision medicine, pharmaceuticals, biologics, medical equipment and vaccines. By utilizing processes like temperature monitoring, thermodynamic management, and priority boarding and handling, United Cargo gives customers the peace of mind that their shipments will be protected throughout their journey.

With the global demand for tailored pharmaceutical solutions at an all-time high, we've made investments to help ensure we provide the most reliable air cargo options for cold chain shipping. In April this year, we became the first U.S. carrier to lease temperature-controlled shipping containers manufactured by DoKaSch Temperature Solutions. We continue to partner with state-of-the-art container providers to ensure we have options that meet our customers' ever-changing needs.

"Providing safe air cargo transport for essential shipments has been a top priority since the pandemic began. While the entire air cargo industry has had its challenges, I'm proud of how United Cargo has adapted and thrived despite a significant reduction in network capacity and supply," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "We remain committed to helping our customers make it through the pandemic, as well as to doing everything we can to be prepared for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution when the time comes."

Our entire team continues to prioritize moving critical shipments as part of our commitment to supporting the global supply chain. We've assembled a COVID readiness task team to ensure we have the right people in place and are preparing our airports as we get ready for the industry-wide effort that comes next.

In cooperation with our partners all over the world, United Cargo has helped transport nearly 145 million pounds of medical supplies to aid in the fight against COVID-19, using a combination of cargo-only flights and passenger flig­hts. To date, United Cargo has operated more than 6,300 cargo-only flights and has transported more than 213 million pounds of cargo worldwide.

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