Opening up the World for Children with Autism - United Hub

Opening up the world for children with autism

By Matt Adams, April 20, 2018

A version of this story appears in the April issue of Hemispheres in honor of National Autism Awareness Month

The raw emotions are still evident, even more than a decade later, when Houston-based Captain Kyle Gardner and his wife Irma talk about their first attempted flight as a family with their son Nicky. They were standing in the gate area at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on their way to Los Angeles, but Nicky was struggling. As other passengers looked on, he threw himself onto the floor and let loose, screaming and flailing his arms and legs as Irma tried to calm him.

"I said to Kyle, 'I can't do this,'" Irma recalls. "There was no way I could put him on that flight. We were so anxious, and people were staring at us. They couldn't see that he has a disability, they just thought he was being a brat. I was so upset that I picked him up and we left."

Nicky, who is now 15, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder shortly after his third birthday. As a young boy, he had a hard time adjusting to new environments, especially those, like airports, filled with noise and movement, and his discomfort could quickly escalate, leaving Kyle and Irma feeling powerless.

Houston-based Captain Kyle Gardner and his sons at Houston\u2019s October Wings for All eventKyle and his sons at Houston's October Wings for All event

While traumatic, the Gardners' experience is hardly unique among families with autistic children. That's why in recent years, airlines like ours and 45 airport authorities across the U.S. have teamed up with the Arc, a nationwide organization serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to host Wings for Autism and Wings for All (the name varies by city) airport immersion sessions designed to give children with autism a greater level of familiarity and comfort when traveling.

When he first heard about the program at Houston's George Bush International Airport in 2014, Kyle jumped at the chance to volunteer. Twice a year, he puts on his uniform and helps lead a Wings for All group on a dry run through the airport, from the ticketing area, through security, to the boarding gate and onto on of our parked aircraft. Once on board, Kyle, his fellow pilots and a team of flight attendants put on a mock flight.

Kyle recognizes in the kids the same anxiety and fear that he once observed in Nicky. But, given his unique personal connection, he's able to reassure them and their parents that, with enough practice and a patient approach, anything is possible.

"There's one child who has come multiple times," he says, "but he was never able to get down the jetbridge. Last time, he made it all the way onto the plane, and that was a big accomplishment. These families keep coming back, and each time their kids make small improvements."

Nicky, Irma, Kyle and the Gardners\u2019 youngest son, Sebastian, at Machu Picchu, PeruNicky, Irma, Kyle and the Gardners' youngest son, Sebastian, at Machu Picchu, Peru

The Gardners didn't have a support system like Wings for Autism/Wings for All when Nicky was young, and they admit it was difficult. Eventually, through perseverance, they helped him become the seasoned flyer he is today, with a passport book that's filling up with stamps. At the Houston Wings for All event last October, Nicky accompanied his mom and dad and shared his experiences with the attendees, serving as inspiration for those who worry that air travel is beyond their grasp.

"We didn't want Nicky to only see the world through books," Irma says, "we wanted him to see it for himself. He loves flying now, and I feel like we don't have any limitations."

What keeps Kyle going back to Wings for All year after year is the hope that other families can reach that point, too. "Getting their child onto an airplane for the first time means that maybe one day they can visit Grandma or go to Disneyland together. You can't measure the impact," he says. "They are so grateful for that opportunity, and that's what stays with me. At United, caring is second only to safety, and our participation in Wings for Autism and Wings for All underscores that."

Houston's next Wings for All event is scheduled for April 24. For details, visit the Arc of Texas webpage.

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.

United Cargo and logistics partners keep critical medical shipments moving

By The Hub team, July 02, 2020

By working together and strengthening partnerships during these unprecedented times, our global community has overcome challenges and created solutions to keep the global supply chain moving. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the shipping landscape, United and our industry partners have increasingly demonstrated our commitment to the mission of delivering critical medical supplies across the world.

United Cargo has partnered with DSV Air and Sea, a leading global logistics company, to transport important pharmaceutical materials to places all over the world. One of the items most critical during the current crisis is blood plasma.

Plasma is a fragile product that requires very careful handling. Frozen blood plasma must be kept at a very low, stable temperature of negative 20 degrees Celsius or less – no easy task considering it must be transported between trucks, warehouses and airplanes, all while moving through the climates of different countries. Fortunately, along with our well-developed operational procedures and oversight, temperature-controlled shipping containers from partners like va-Q-tec can help protect these sensitive blood plasma shipments from temperature changes.

A single TWINx shipping container from va-Q-tec can accommodate over 1,750 pounds of temperature-sensitive cargo. Every week, DSV delivers 20 TWINx containers, each one filled to capacity with human blood plasma, for loading onto a Boeing 787-9 for transport. The joint effort to move thousands of pounds of blood plasma demonstrates that despite the distance, challenges in moving temperature-sensitive cargo and COVID-19 obstacles, we continue to find creative solutions with the help of our strong partnerships.

United Cargo is proud to keep the commercial air bridges open between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Since March 19, we have operated over 3,200 cargo-only flights between six U.S. hubs and over 20 cities in Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, India, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Celebrating Juneteenth

By United Airlines, June 18, 2020

A message from UNITE, United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group

Fellow United team members –

Hello from the UNITE leadership team. While we communicate frequently with our 3,500 UNITE members, our platform doesn't typically extend to the entire United family, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share some of our thoughts with all of you.

Tomorrow is June 19. On this day in 1865, shortened long ago to "Juneteenth," Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved individuals were free. For many in the African-American community, particularly in the South, it is recognized as the official date slavery ended in the United States.

Still, despite the end of slavery, the Constitutional promise that "All men are created equal" would overlook the nation's Black citizens for decades to come. It wasn't until nearly a century later that the Civil Rights Act (1964) ended legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act (1965) protected voting rights for Black Americans. But while the nation has made progress, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have made it undeniably clear that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve racial parity and inclusion.

Two weeks ago, Scott and Brett hosted a virtual town hall and set an important example by taking a minute, as Brett said, "to lower my guard, take off my armor, and just talk to you. And talk to you straight from the heart."

Difficult conversations about race and equity are easy to avoid. But everyone needs to have these conversations – speaking honestly, listening patiently and understanding that others' experiences may be different from your own while still a valid reflection of some part of the American experience.

To support you as you consider these conversations, we wanted to share some resources from one of United's partners, The National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum will host an all-day Virtual Juneteenth Celebration to recognize Juneteenth through presentations, stories, photographs and recipes. The museum also has a portal that United employees can access called Talking About Race, which provides tools and guidance for everyone to navigate conversations about race.

Our mission at UNITE is to foster an inclusive working environment for all of our employees. While we are hopeful and even encouraged by the widespread and diverse show of support for African Americans around the country – and at United - we encourage everyone to spend some time on Juneteenth reflecting on racial disparities that remain in our society and dedicating ourselves to the work that still must be done to fight systemic racism. By honoring how far we've come and honestly acknowledging how far we still must go, we believe United – and the incredible people who are the heart and soul of this airline - can play an important role in building a more fair and just world.

Thank you,

UNITE (United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group)

Leadership Team

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