Serving the skies and community
In honor of Black History Month, each week we will profile an employee who is helping to break barriers. Follow along throughout the month of February for these extraordinary stories of perseverance.
You could fly a million miles and not find anyone half as vibrant as Newark-based Flight Attendant Jacqueline Jacquet-Williams. She is a one-of-a-kind woman and, embarking on her 44th year at United, she has a remarkable story to tell.
Raised in Compton, California, Jacqueline was fascinated from an early age by the airplanes taking off and landing at nearby Los Angeles International Airport. But you could say that her aviation career truly got off the ground thanks to the Jacquet family business. “My dad and his brothers were jazz musicians," she says. “From the time I was young, I followed them everywhere they went. Traveling was a big part of our life." In fact, her uncle was the legendary tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, who jammed with everyone from Nat King Cole and Cab Calloway to President Bill Clinton.
Following in their footsteps, Jacqueline aspired to be a jazz singer, but her father encouraged her to have a fall back plan that could pay the bills when music couldn't. “He told me, 'Don't quit your day job' which hurt a little, but he was right." It was that piece of sage advice that led to her first non-singing job, at the old Continental Airlines headquarters near Los Angeles International Airport. “I worked in the office, and every twenty minutes a bus pulled up next to my window and the inflight crews got off. They were always laughing and looked like they were having so much fun, so I said to myself, I have to find out what they do."
Before long Jacqueline was a crew member herself, laughing right along with them. But that was 1974, less than twenty years after Carol Ruth Taylor became the first African American flight attendant in the U.S., and being black meant living in two separate Americas. “When I started, it was challenging. I was based in Dallas, and you could still feel the tension from segregation. I remember serving meals, and some of the white passengers wouldn't even look at me. When I asked them what they wanted to drink, they wouldn't answer. Coming from California, I wasn't used to that."
Sadly, she wasn't alone. Jacqueline recounts hearing another black flight attendant from that era talk about sleeping in the plane's cabin at one destination because the crew hotel only allowed white guests. During that oftentimes difficult first year, Jacqueline recognized the need for the small number of black flight attendants to unite, not only as a support system for each other, but as a way of giving back to their communities. That recognition led to her founding the Black Flight Attendants of America (BFAOA), Inc., of which she is still the president.
“I rounded up some other flight attendants, and we gathered in galleys to talk about ways that we could help. The first year, we visited children at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Compton at Christmastime. We showed up in uniform and talked to them about aviation and sang Christmas carols."
The original Black Flight Attendants of America Inc. core consisted of around sixty flight attendants from across the country, but it soon grew to nine chapters. Today the organization still follows two missions — “serving the skies and the community" and “promoting the legacy of black history in aviation" — as they work to assist young African Americans achieve their dreams, whether it be securing positive space travel for students going away to college or sponsoring career fairs and camps for kids interested in aviation.
Over the decades, Jacqueline has watched the landscape change drastically in terms of African American employees being welcomed by the airlines, and that's something that she is glad to have been a part of. “Now you see a large number of not only African Americans, but all minorities working on the ground, in the air and in management, and I take a lot of pride in that. But we can't stop there; we have to keep turning the wheel and encouraging and mentoring the next generations."
Jacqueline Jacquet-Williams pictured second from left
Author and retired flight attendant Casey Grant credits Jacqueline in her new book, Stars in the Sky: Stories of the First African American Flight Attendants, as one of the influential pioneers who helped pave the way for that progress, and Black Flight Attendants of America Inc. has been inducted into several museums around the country including, most notably, the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Soon, they hope to find a place in the National African American Museum in Aviation.
As for being considered a trailblazer herself, Jacqueline is reluctant to accept that label. “I guess I'm surprised by the recognition, because I always felt that I should have given more," she says, while adding, “I'm proud of the contributions that we have made, and I just want to continue to honor the people who have helped the cause each step of the way." In spite of the challenges she faced early on, Jacqueline's good memories far outweigh the bad, and she still emits a ray of joy when she talks about flying. “I love the experience of travel, and love having the ability to share that with our customers. I've been doing it for 43 years, but retirement isn't in the plans. Why would I? This is the best job in the world."
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.
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.
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.
UNITE (United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group)
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.