'Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are up'
Lillian Velez didn't even have time to notify her friends, neighbors or fellow employees that she was leaving Puerto Rico. She got a text from her cousin, Newark-based Flight Attendant Jana Albino, confirming there was room for Lillian and her daughter on United's humanitarian flight to the U.S., and within hours she gathered what she could, traveled two hours to San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico and boarded a flight to Newark.
Lillian was one of nearly 250 evacuees on Wednesday's flight, leaving their home behind after Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico devastated.
Lillian's home was severely flooded and forced her and her three-year-old daughter Lyanne to build a makeshift bed out of spared pillows and blankets on the floor of their second story so that they had a dry place to sleep at night. Away from the disaster and en route to safety, Lillian wept on board nonetheless, consumed with the feeling of guilt.
"I feel so very lucky to be on this flight, but there are so many people back home that are still in such dire need," said Lillian through tears. "I can't stop thinking about those left behind that are still struggling greatly."
Lillian's story is just one of many aboard this flight -- some traveling to the U.S. to temporarily stay with family members, others headed for the unknown, without anyone awaiting them upon arrival. All, however, shared the feeling of gratitude and great hope that they will eventually return to their beloved island.
The road to recovery will be grueling for all those impacted, and the journey to a full rebuild will be a long one for Puerto Rico. We are doing our part to help with that recovery process.
The same aircraft, a Boeing 777-300ER, carrying evacuees out of Puerto Rico also had an important mission earlier that day on its way into the island.
We flew 35,000 pounds of essential supplies and more than 300 first responders and skilled workers from all over the U.S. to the island, where they will volunteer working in various roles on rebuilding Puerto Rico.
"They've been absolutely devastated, so it's going to be amazing to go in and help," said Lelia Pipenger, a registered nurse (RN) at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital and a member of the RNRN, a national network of direct-care RNs that coordinates sending volunteer RNs to disaster-stricken areas.
On September 29, Lelia got the call that she might be needed for relief efforts in Puerto Rico, and five days later, without hesitation, Lelia boarded the flight headed to San Juan.
"There're going to be days that we'll just help clean up, other days we'll be providing nursing care, so it just depends on where they need us that day," she said. "We respond when we're needed, and we're so glad that United is able to help us get there."
"We're all incredibly inspired by the commitment that you all have made," announced Boston-based Flight Attendant Sara Nelson before landing at San Juan Airport. "So right here, on this flight, right now, I think we should all remember that this is exactly what America is. Thank you all. We are so proud of you, and we are so honored to fly with you."
Upon arrival, the volunteers were met with cheers as they deplaned and made their way to baggage claim. Our San Juan Airport team members also felt the great support from some Newark Airport customer service representatives, who came down to help with boarding evacuees out of San Juan, many of whom required wheelchair assistance.
"United has been so great with not only supporting our staffing, but also sending supplies, and that really helps us give essentials to employees so that their families can be ok and they can still come to work and take care of customers," said San Juan-based General Manager Orlando Cordova.
Despite the damage, Orlando is very impressed with the incredible commitment he's seen from the employees, and he said the team is focused on getting back on its feet, getting back to work and rebuilding the station.
"We're in this together," he said. "Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are up."
To see more heartfelt stories on our humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico, watch the reunion of a Puerto Rico evacuee and her daughter.
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."
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.
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.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, video conferencing tools that many people are using to stay connected.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).
To use on Zoom:
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
- Start by downloading your favorite United image to your computer. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- C:\[insert your device user name here]\AppData\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads
- If you're using a Mac copy the images to this folder on your computer:
- /users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds/Uploads
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- Once you start a Teams meeting, click the "…" in the menu bar and select "Show background effects" and your image should be there
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This is why we fly.
20 UCSF Health workers, who voluntarily set aside their own lives to help save lives, are on their way to New York City.
We are humbled by your selfless sacrifice.
In celebration and appreciation of all first responders and essential workers. 👏🏻👏🏼👏🏽👏🏾👏🏿
This is the story of Jason and Shantel. You see, Jason and Shantel love each other very much. They also love traveling and they love the classic Adam Sandler film, The Wedding Singer.
It all began when Jason reached out to United's social media team, hoping for assistance with his upcoming plan to propose. Some phone calls and one borrowed guitar later, the stage was set for Jason. Put all that together, mix in some helpful United employees and, voila, you have a truly memorable marriage proposal. Congratulations to this fun-loving and happy couple, and here's to many more years of making beautiful music together.
A big thank you to Chicago-based flight attendants Donna W., Marie M., Karen J. and Mark K. for making this proposal come to life.