Remembering the Queen - United Hub

Remembering the 'Queen'

By Matt Adams

For nearly half a century, the Boeing 747, the world's first commercial jumbo jet, has occupied a special, almost mythological place in the world of aviation. Today, marking the end of an era, United announced it will fly its final scheduled 747 route sometime in the fourth quarter of this year. When it does, United will be the last U.S.-based passenger carrier to retire the venerable aircraft in favor of more environmentally friendly and economical widebody planes.

In a heartfelt letter to employees, United's President Scott Kirby described the decision to cease flying the Queen of the Skies as bittersweet. “There's something very special about a Boeing 747," he said. “It's the one aircraft that even casual travelers can easily identify. And we know that the experience of traveling on one, or flying one, is unforgettable." Scott went on to set the stage for what's to come, saying, “We'll be working with all of you who fly or work on the 747s to ensure a smooth transition to other fleets. And of course we'll honor the 747 with an unforgettable retirement celebration."

Like our customers, many of our employees forged a unique bond with the 747 during its heyday. Take United Captain Jon Russell, who started flying the 747 as a first officer in the early 1990s. Even now, 25 years later, he can vividly recall that introduction.

“I remember waiting in the jetway while the plane was being brought over from the hangar," he said, “and it was an incredible experience – I could hear it approaching from the noise of the engines. Then the nose of the plane came into view, and in short order the fuselage enveloped the entire opening to the jetway. At that moment, I realized the enormity of the aircraft; it was pretty dramatic."

When it rolled off the line at Boeing's Everett, Washington, plant in 1969, the double-decker 747 was not only an engineering marvel, it was the culmination of everything that the “jet age" represented in American culture - an airplane with the capacity to democratize air travel, previously a luxury unattainable for many would-be fliers. But it also signaled a new leap in commercial aircraft performance with its power and long-range capabilities. Calling them “rope starts" (a nickname for the early 747 models), Jon recounted the fun of piloting the behemoths. “That airplane could fly really fast. I remember sitting in the right seat of a 747-100, and I looked over at the captain and said, 'Do you know that you're doing [Mach 0.90] (almost 700 miles per hour)!'"

United and Continental's original 747s, which they began flying in 1970, were assigned to each airline's West Coast - Hawaii routes. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, United boasted the largest fleet of domestic 747s, with 18 in circulation throughout the United States, making the plane synonymous with the airline in the minds of customers in those days.

“It's an iconic aircraft, probably the most recognizable airplane in the sky," Jon said. “Being in one was such a neat experience because of that upper deck – it was almost like an airplane in an airplane."

In spite of the many miles he logged in 747 cockpits flying all over the globe, Jon's fondest memory is from a short trip out of San Francisco to central Washington. “My dad flew with United and flew the 747 just before he retired. He took one up to Moses Lake (site of one of Boeing's testing facilities) with some of United's instructors, and I sat in the jumpseat while he made three 'roller landings.' It was so cool because you had these big commercial airplanes doing pattern work all around you, not to mention the fact that I was there with my dad." The 747 has captivated imaginations and inspired a sense of wonder about the world for generations of travelers but, as so often happens, progress dictates change. “It's like an old friend that you don't want to see go," Jon said. “It's been such an iconic figure around our airline for so long. We'll probably never see another four-engine aircraft on the property; it's the last of something special."

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.

Scroll to top