An Ace in the Community - United Hub

Xavier Samuels inspires the next generation of aviators

By Matt Adams, February 05, 2018

In honor of Black History Month, each week we will profile an employee who is helping to break barriers. Follow along throughout the month of February for these extraordinary stories of perseverance.

Crediting the men and women who blazed the trail on which he now walks, Houston-based First Officer Xavier Samuels says he never worried that being an African American would keep him out of the flight deck, and for years, he's done his part to show the next generation that anything is possible for them, too.

It was in the early 1990s, when Xavier was a young U.S. Navy officer stationed in Pensacola, Florida, that he first noticed senior officers taking part in a local ACE Academy. ACE, which stands for Aviation Career Education, is an annual weeklong summer program sponsored by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) that introduces junior high and high school students to aviation-related fields.

Xavier was impressed by what he saw. From that day forward, he resolved to give back in similar ways, beginning by visiting schools and speaking on the importance of education and perseverance in the face of adversity and discrimination.

When he joined United in 2005, he brought that passion for the community with him, and in 2011, Xavier helped found Houston's first ACE Academy, one of nearly 30 currently operating around the country.

"Our first stop each year is IAH so the students can tour the airport and see what goes on behinds the scenes," Xavier said, describing the ACE Academy curriculum. "They meet customer service representatives, maintenance techs and ramp service employees. Some have never been to an airport, so they see a world they didn't know existed."

The week concludes with the students going up one by one in a Cessna for a discovery flight, during which each gets to take the controls for a few minutes and experience the thrill of piloting an aircraft.

Since its inaugural year, more than 100 students have passed through the Houston ACE Academy, over half of whom remain in touch with Xavier and his fellow academy leaders. Several are now in college pursuing aviation careers. Some have even followed Xavier's path into the military and to his alma mater, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, of which he is particularly proud.

And Xavier still visits classrooms, now as part of the "Pilots and Professionals in Schools" program in Houston, helping expose students to a wide variety of career choices.

"When I go to the schools, I'll have the uniform on," Xavier said. "Some of the kids are impressed, and it's a cool feeling. With the situations that some of them are growing up in, aspiring to [achieve] their goals might seem almost impossible. We tell them, whatever your preconceived notions were before, put that stuff out of your mind, because you're talking to someone who's done it and who isn't any smarter or more advantaged than you are. If you really want it, you can achieve it.

"This is what I'm supposed to do," he continued. "I've been so blessed to live my dream, so it's part of my purpose to help show these students that it's doable."

Adjusting to Customer Demand, United Adds New Nonstop Service to Florida

By United Newsroom, August 12, 2020

CHICAGO, Aug. 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines today announced plans to add up to 28 daily nonstop flights this winter connecting customers in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four popular Florida destinations. The new, nonstop flights reflect United's continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.

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.

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