Inspiring the Next Generation of Girls in Aviation - United Hub

Inspiring the next generation of girls in aviation

By Ryan Hood, March 07, 2018

March is Women's History Month, and all month long United is celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of women from across the airline.

Since 1990, Women in Aviation International has been encouraging women of all ages to think about a career in aviation. Below is the story of Radha Bruckner, a United pilot, who chased her dream from India.

How a little girl in India became a pilot

When 17-year-old Radha Bruckner went to the beach, she looked up to the skies, not out at the waves crashing ashore. “My mom and I would sit on the rocks along the beach. I was in my first year of college in Mumbai, India," Radha recalls. Never mind the water and the sunsets, Radha's eyes would be fixed on the airplanes dotting the sky.

“I'd ask my mom if my dream would ever take flight," Radha says, “and she always said that if I worked hard and stayed focused, I could do anything I set my mind to, no matter how impossible the odds."

Radha's parents assumed their young daughter was just going through a phase. They thought that there was no way a girl from India — raised in a family that didn't even have a car — would have an interest in becoming a pilot. Female pilots were rare back then. Even rarer were the places in India where she could get the proper schooling. “People told me this isn't a career path for young women, and I cried every time I heard this," Radha says. “But my parents were never among the naysayers." Time went on, and a girl whose dream of flight began on her first flight — at age four to New York City due to her father's job — persisted.

“I still remember parts of that long flight on board a Boeing 747 from New Delhi," Radha says. “I remember asking my parents and the flight attendants endless questions about the airplane." She started to believe she could one day fly a plane in her first year of high school. Her father brought home a magazine from the Indian embassy, where he then worked, in Frankfurt, Germany. Featured on the cover? Nivedita Bhasin, who'd just become the youngest female pilot in world civil aviation history to command a commercial jet. “In that moment, my dream of becoming an airline pilot became real and attainable," Radha says.

She grabbed the magazine and went up to the green-roof of the building her family lived in near Frankfurt Airport. It was there she spent countless hours in her teens. Much like she'd do on the beach in Mumbai, she looked not outward at the cityscape, but upward at the planes coming and going. Four years later, she was on one of those planes, bound for the United States.

After logging 900 flight hours, Radha drove a car for the first time. “Not many people can say that," Radha jokes. Not too many girls from India can say they've become commercial airline pilots, either, but Radha can. With the help of her parents, Radha left her college in Mumbai, and, at age 18, was living on her own in America, earning her flight instructor rating in Illinois.

“My dad was visiting Chicago on a business trip, and I had the honor of flying him in a Cessna 172 XP," Radha says proudly. “I still remember the wide grin on my dad's face as he clung onto the armrest for dear life." The planes Radha flies now are a bit bigger and can fit a few more passengers. Radha is a Newark-based Boeing 767/757 first officer for United. She realized her lifelong dream of joining a major commercial airline in 2014 and has flown the friendly skies ever since. “It is a privilege to live your dream," Radha says. “Sadly, my parents did not live to see me attain my goal, but I know in my heart that, if it wasn't for their unconditional love, unwavering faith and numerous sacrifices, this little girl from India would have never reached for the stars. “I hope to inspire little girls and boys from around the world to do the same."

“Adversity builds character," Radha's dad used to always tell her. “And he knew much about adversity, being the only one in his little village in south India to put himself through high school, ultimately earning a Masters Degree in economics with honors," Radha says.

She recently passed along similar messages during a trip back to Mumbai, where she spoke to students at a school for underprivileged youth.

Radha with students in Mumbai

“Today was the most memorable and humbling experience of my life," Radha said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity to speak to these beautiful children about my love for flying and to give them wings as souvenirs. I was so moved by their attention, curiosity and questions. I hope they take to heart the message I wanted to share with them — 'you can do anything you set your mind to if you work hard and stay focused.'" She had one request of the children before leaving for the next destination on her two-week trip: Frankfurt, and her favorite green-roofed building. “I asked them to look at the wings I passed out whenever they needed the reminder that anything is possible," Radha said.

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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