Taking flight together, celebrating Black History Month
If you walk into the famed Museum of Science and Industry on Chicago's South Side, you'll pass scores of artifacts and tributes to our progress as human beings, our boundless ingenuity and endless curiosity, and — above all — our capacity to come together in pursuit of a better future.
As you make your way through the building, if you cast your eyes upwards, you'll see, suspended as if in mid-flight, the centerpiece of the whole exhibit: a beautiful United Airlines Boeing 727. Emblazoned on the fuselage you'll see the aircraft is named after William (Bill) Norwood, the first African-American pilot for United Airlines and a trailblazing pioneer for not only our airline, but the aviation industry and our country, as well.
The arc of his extraordinary career traces the history of United Airlines, and the United States. His story tells us something vitally important about where we come from and where we ought to be going.
In his wonderful, inspiring memoir, "Cleared for Takeoff: A Pilot's Story of Challenges and Triumphs," Bill retells the story of his arrival at United's Flight Training Center in Denver on May 31, 1965.
On that first day, Bill experienced the same frustrating attitudes he had faced when he took the field as the first African American quarterback of his university (he was also one of only two black college quarterbacks in the nation at the time), and also the first time he piloted the mighty B-52s for the U.S. Air Force.
"When a classmate asked me, in a condescending manner, which aircraft I had flown [previously], I proceeded to tell him I had flown the B-52 and had 1,400 hours in the jumbo jet," Bill wrote. "I quickly added that the DC-6 would fit under one wing of the B-52. The word soon spread my qualifications were far superior to any of those of my classmates."
This story captures the experience that I think many people can relate to, myself included. And it is something that too many of our friends and family deal with to this day.
Bill summed it up this way: "Whether it was segregation or discrimination, not only against people of color but also women, we were taught you have to work twice as hard to get half as far."
Bill worked more than twice as hard, and he helped so many others in the United family go very far, indeed.
Across the system this February, we will continue to help tell these inspiring stories as we recognize Black History Month. We are doing more than talking, however; we are making change happen and championing the values of diversity, inclusion and respect that have made United an industry-leader for equality of opportunity and advancement.
For example, our consistent efforts that promote our minority-owned business partners earned us Top 50 designation from DiversityInc, celebrating our supplier diversity program.
Also, our exciting new pilot hiring program, Aviate, will help continue Bill Norwood's legacy across United's flight decks.
I think the greatest tribute we can offer to trailblazers like Bill, and everyone who shared his experience of trial and triumph, is to build an airline where every United family member and customer we serve can go as far as their dreams and talent lead them.
Ultimately, that is what that aircraft inscribed with his name is really all about. When we come together as people, with a common pursuit of a better future, that's when we truly take flight.
In the midst of mobilizing our cargo operations, our teams at New York/Newark (EWR) and Jacksonville (JAX) stepped in to assist Roche Diagnostics with transporting a vital component for an instrument being used for COVID-19 testing.
The component was stuck at EWR en route to the Mayo Clinic in Florida after another airline's flights were cancelled. A Roche employee contacted us asking for help and, within a few hours, our teams had the piece loaded onto a Jacksonville-bound aircraft, with arrangements in place to deliver it to the Mayo Clinic.
The item we shipped will allow the Mayo Clinic in Florida to process hundreds of COVID-19 tests per day. Mayo Clinic Laboratories has been on the front lines of increasing testing capacity to expedite caring for patients at this critical time and working to ease the burden being felt at test processing laboratories in a growing number of areas.
We are going above and beyond to find creative ways to transport fresh food and produce, as well as basic essentials from the U.S. mainland to military and their families in Guam/Micronesia. On Saturday, March 28, we operated an exclusive cargo-only B777-300 charter to transport nearly 100,000 pounds of food essentials to Guam to support our troops.
In addition, we move mail year-round all over the world. In response to COVID-19, and in support of the military members and their families overseas, we implemented a charter network, transporting military mail to Frankfurt, which is then transported all over Europe and the Middle East. Since March 20, we have flown 30,000+ pounds of military mail every day between Chicago O'Hare (ORD) and Frankfurt (FRA). On the return flight from Frankfurt to Chicago, we have carried an average of 35,000 pounds of mail to help families stay connected.
"Connecting products and mail to people around the world is the United Cargo mission," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "Keeping our military families connected with the goods they need, and keeping them connected with loved ones to feel a sense of home, is of critical importance. As a company that has long supported our military families and veterans, our teams are proud to mobilize to lend a hand."
On average, we ship more than 1 billion pounds of cargo every year on behalf of domestic and international customers. For more information, visit unitedcargo.com.
To our customers,
I hope this note finds you and your loved ones healthy and well.
It is safe to say these past weeks have been among some of the most tumultuous and emotional that any of us can remember in our lifetimes. The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been felt by individuals and families, companies and communities, across the United States and around the world.
The response to this crisis has been extraordinary; as much for what it has required from our society as for what it has revealed of us as a people.
Far from causing division and discord, this crisis and the social distancing it has required, has allowed us to witness something profound and moving about ourselves: our fond and deeply felt wish to be connected with one another.
The role of connector is one we're privileged to play in the moments that matter most in your life – weddings and graduations, birthdays and business trips, events large and small – and it's that responsibility that motivates us most to get back to our regular service, as soon as possible.
That is why it is so important our government acted on a comprehensive relief act to ensure our airline – and our industry – are ready and able to serve you again when this crisis abates.
I want to relay to you, in as deeply personal a way I can, the heartfelt appreciation of my 100,000 United team members and their families for this vital public assistance to keep America and United flying for you.
This support will save jobs in our business and many others. And it allows us time to make decisions about the future of our airline to ensure that we can offer you the service you deserve and have come to expect as our customers.
While consumer demand has fallen, we have seen the need for our service and capabilities shifted. And, we've adapted to help meet those needs.
Right now, aircraft flying the United livery and insignia, flown by our aviation professionals, have been repurposed to deliver vital medical supplies and goods to some of the places that need it most. We're also using several of our idle widebody aircraft to use as dedicated charter cargo flights, at least 40 times per week, to transfer freight to and from U.S. locations as well as to key international business locations. At the same time, we are working in concert with the U.S. State Department to bring stranded Americans who are trying to return home back to their loved ones.
While much remains uncertain right now, one thing is for sure: this crisis will pass. Our nation and communities will recover and United will return to service you, our customers. When that happens, we want you to fly United with even greater pride because of the actions we took on behalf of our customers, our employees and everyone we serve.
Stay safe and be well,
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.