Ode to a Flight Pioneer - United Hub

Ode to a flight pioneer

By Matt Adams, May 28, 2019

The best years of her life were the ones she spent in the air

With all due respect to the exhibits and gorgeous aircraft on display at The Museum of Flight outside Seattle, on a sunny Saturday in May, Betty Stockard overshadowed them all.

"Mom, tell them the one about Clark Gable," her son, Dick Stockard, urged, handing her the microphone and getting the ball rolling. Soon, Betty, who was celebrating her 100th birthday in one of the museum's banquet rooms, was recounting some of the more memorable episodes from her years as a United flight attendant in the 1940s.

Betty pictured at her 100th birthday celebration with Jennifer O'Brien and Ed Toschikat the Museum of Flight outside of Seattle Betty pictured at her 100th birthday celebration with Jennifer O'Brien and Ed Toschik at the Museum of Flight outside of Seattle

She told how she shared her lunch and a conversation with the legendary actor on a trip to Los Angeles, then recalled her friendship with frequent flyer and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. As her family and friends sat in awed silence, it was if the past seven decades had melted away and Betty was once again that intrepid young woman who forged her identity as one of the first non-nurse "stewardesses" in airline history.

Born near Kalispell, Montana, on May 16, 1919 as Elizabeth Jean Riley, and raised on a dairy farm, becoming an aviation pioneer was the furthest thing from Betty's mind growing up. But in early 1942, she saw a newspaper ad announcing that United was hiring a new crop of flight attendants.

For years, airlines had only hired nurses into those roles, but with more and more of them needed elsewhere during World War II, that was no longer the case. Despite having never stepped foot on an airplane, Betty applied. A few weeks later, she was in Chicago, where she joined 24 other women from across the country for six weeks of intense training. After graduation, she was assigned to San Francisco.

Flying up and down the West Coast was an experience that exceeded even Betty's wildest dreams. It was a glamorous and exciting career, and she was certain she had found the path she was meant to follow. Without a doubt, aviation was Betty's first true love. It wasn't until 1946 that another surpassed it.

Betty pictured with her late husband, Ray Stockard

That's the year she met a handsome former fighter pilot by the name of Ray Stockard. Ray was traversing the country interviewing for jobs with airlines when he introduced himself to Betty during a flight. They began dating shortly after, but it was a bittersweet romance. Betty knew if she got married she'd have to leave her career behind 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.

"I hated giving up flying, but I knew I was making the right move," she says. "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 extensively, and aviation was always a favorite topic of conversation around the house.

"My kids, instead of getting bedtime stories about three bears, they got flying stories," says Betty.

With those stories, she passed on her adventurous spirit to her children. As they got older, the Stockard kids followed their mom's example and went fearlessly into the unknown, visiting, living and working in some of the farthest corners of the globe – including Antarctica.

Even more than her unique connection to the history of commercial aviation, that is Betty's legacy. Her birthday celebration was packed with people who came from far and wide to honor the woman who showed them what it means to live life to the fullest. Among them were United's International Inflight Director Jennifer O'Brien and West Coast Base Director Ed Toschik, along with several retired United flight attendants.

"We have 25,000 flight attendants today, and Betty is one of the people who blazed the trail for all of them," Toschik says. "She is an absolute treasure and I'm so happy that she is part of our United family."

After saying a few words at the party, Toschik and O'Brien cemented that bond, presenting Betty with a new set of silver flight attendant's wings. As O'Brien pinned them to her lapel, Betty's face beamed, just like it had during her pinning ceremony 77 years earlier. The eyes that had seen aviation evolve from its near infancy shined as bright as ever.

And with that, an enviable life came full circle.

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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