For United's Captain Whitson, 'every day is a gift' - United Hub

For Captain Whitson, 'every day is a gift'

By Rachel Landgraf, April 14, 2020

Mornings aren't everyone's cup of tea, especially mornings that involve starting work at 3 a.m. But mornings don't bother Houston-based Boeing 737 Captain David Whitson anymore. "I don't care if I have to wake up early to fly a red-eye," said David. "It's the little things I appreciate more now. Little things don't bother me." For David, the little things are a gift. A gift called life. It's a gift David is thankful to still have.

"In August of 2016, I started to feel ill," said David. "I had a headache that wouldn't go away. Then, it turned into a fever, my lymph nodes were next, so I went in." At the doctor's, David was diagnosed with leukemia. "I was told I had an FLT3 mutation, which is really not good," said David. "I essentially was told I was going to die unless the treatment went perfectly and I found a bone marrow match."

Captain David Whitson in the cockpit of a plane

David was immediately put on Be The Match, the largest and most diverse registry in the world to help find matches for people diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. While he waited, David continued to fight. "The emotion I felt throughout the process I would describe as hope," he said. "Every cancer patient needs a chance." David's chance came calling in December 2016. "A sweet young lady named Allie Reimold saved my life," said David. "She was a student at Purdue University when she signed up with Be The Match at a charity event called, 'Purdue University Dance Marathon.' The event raises funds for children with cancer."

After receiving his bone marrow, David focused on getting stronger. He overcame obstacles like weight loss, taking over 30 pills a day and even battling a virus, but he fought back with determination and the support of his family, as well as his United family. "I've been given a really generous gift," said David. "This has given me the opportunity to be a better person, husband, father and more. As I worked to get back to work, everyone was rooting for me to come back. You can tell everyone cared, especially the Houston chief pilot's office."

David and his wife Jennifer (center) with Carol and Mark Romine. Carol and Mark lost their son to Lymphoma in 2008. They have been raising money for children and Be The Match ever since.

Without experiencing a battle like David's, there is no way to know where he drew all of the strength needed for his recovery," said Houston Base Chief Pilot Ernie Aller. "The one thing I do know is returning to the skies with his friends and co-workers was one of them." Today, David is back. He's back to being a pilot, a husband, father and now, an advocate for bone marrow registry, especially throughout the month of November as it is National Marrow Awareness Month.

"Three years ago, I knew nothing about bone marrow registry," said David. "Today, there are about 14,000 people awaiting a match or need a transplant. Minorities are greatly under-represented. If I can have a small part in registering someone else, I will do it!"

Last year, David and his wife headed to Purdue University for the first time to take part in the dance marathon and work the Be The Match booth. "I was able to share my story and we had an amazing turnout," said David. "We were able to register nearly 500 people, the largest ever at Purdue."

It's a number that David plans to keep growing so that more people get the chance to tell their story just as he is doing today."I never thought someone would save my life, so just being here to say 'thank you' means so much," said David. "Every day is a gift."

Be The Match is one of 10 organizations that United is matching mile donations, one-to-one, to through Miles on a Mission, our airline miles donation platform. Help us support causes that continue to do their important work during the coronavirus, like Be The Match, which continues to courier bone marrow donations to patients who vitally need them. Visit united.com/donate to learn more about what we're doing to help organizations doing important work in response to COVID-19.

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.

Jessica Kimbrough named Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

By The Hub team, July 10, 2020

Jessica Kimbrough, currently Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, will take on the new role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Managing Director.

Jessica assumes this new and expanded position to focus on global inclusion and equity as part of our enhanced commitment to ensure best practices across the business to strengthen our culture.

In this role, Jessica will be responsible for helping United redefine our efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion – ensuring that our programs and approach are strategic, integrated and outcome-oriented, while we continue to build a culture that reflects our core values. She will report to Human Resources and Labor Relations EVP Kate Gebo.

"Jessica's appointment to this role is another critical step our executive team is taking to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion remains a top priority at United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "Given her drive, experience and commitment to champion collaboration and allyship among our employee business resource groups, she is uniquely qualified to take on this position and I look forward to working closely with her."

As Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, Jessica worked closely with senior management to create and maintain positive labor relations among our unionized workforce, providing counsel on labor litigation, negotiations, contract administration, organizing issues and managing attorneys who represent United in labor relations. Previously, she served as Labor and Employment Counsel in our legal department.

Jessica has a passion for creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and leaders, and was honored as one of Chicago Defender's "Women of Excellence" for excellence in her career and civic engagement in 2017. She currently serves as President of uIMPACT, our women's employee business resource group.

Jessica's new role is effective immediately.

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