Flight Attendant Reconnects with Childhood Inspiration - United Hub

Blast from the past: Flight Attendant reconnects with childhood inspiration

By Matt Adams

Chicago-based Flight Attendant Tristan Schnabel tried not to stare, but he couldn't help himself. Though it was the first time the two of them had ever worked a flight together, Schnabel was sure he had seen Los Angeles-based Captain Rafael Gutierrez before; he just couldn't place where. Then, suddenly, it hit him.

The week prior, while visiting his mom, Schnabel had loaded his cell phone with old family pictures, including one that was taken when he was 10 years old, of him posing with a United captain. After scrolling through his phone and finding it, Schnabel couldn't believe what he was seeing — he was nearly certain the man sitting next to him in that 15-year-old photo was Gutierrez.

Schnabel showed the picture to a couple of his flight crew colleagues to see what they thought, and their reactions convinced him that his eyes weren't playing tricks on him. It was the same guy, no doubt about it. After finishing the preflight checklist, he approached Gutierrez and tapped him on the shoulder.

"I said, 'Hey, is this you in this photo?'" Schnabel says. "When he saw it, he just started laughing and said, 'Yeah, that's me!' He couldn't believe it, either."

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs with a mom and stepdad who both worked at United headquarters, Schnabel was a frequent flier, taking full advantage of the family's flight privileges any chance he got. As a precocious youth with an inquiring mind, he also never missed a chance to talk with the pilots and flight attendants he met. He remembers a lot of those conversations fondly, but the one with Gutierrez, who invited him up to the flight deck and let him sit in the right seat, had always stood out.

Since becoming a United pilot in 1989, Gutierrez has done his best to get kids interested in aviation, and he's given a lot of tours of his workspace at the front of the aircraft. To him, bumping into Schnabel wasn't just astonishing, it was further confirmation that those extra efforts over the years have indeed made an impact.

"If young people want to come up to the flight deck and take pictures, I have always welcomed that," Gutierrez says. "It's a great profession, and I encourage them to consider any flying-related careers. I was surprised when Tristan showed me the photo, but more than that, I was touched when he said I was one of the inspirations behind him getting into aviation."

To his credit, Schnabel makes a point of following Gutierrez's example in that regard, too, handing out plastic wings to youngsters on his flights and answering their questions about the work he does.

"I tell them it's a great life," he says. "You get to travel the world and meet new people every day. When I have those conversations, I think back to meeting Captain Gutierrez. I love what I do, and getting to talk with the kids is one of the best parts of the job."

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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