Serving the Skies and Community - United Hub

Serving the skies and community

By Matt Adams, February 27, 2017

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."

A young Jacqueline Jacquet-Williams

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 with fellow flight attendants 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."

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Now as the entire shipping and logistics industry bands together to widely distribute vaccines, United is leveraging all of its flights, including cargo-only and those carrying passengers, to transport millions of vaccines to destinations throughout our network, including Honolulu, Guam and Saipan – the first of any carrier to do so.

United Raises Miles for Dozens of Non-Profits that Rely on Travel

Airline and its customers use crowdsourcing platform - Miles on a Mission - to donate more than 11 million miles for charities like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, College to Congress and Compass to Care
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CHICAGO, Dec. 1, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- United is inviting MileagePlus members to give back on Giving Tuesday and throughout the holiday season by donating miles to nearly 40 non-profits through United Airlines' crowdsourcing platform, Miles on a Mission. Non-profits like Thurgood Marshall College Fund, College to Congress and Compass to Care are attempting to raise a total of more than 11 million miles to be used for travel for life-saving health care, continued education, humanitarian aid and more. United will match the first 125,000 miles raised for each of these organizations to help ensure they meet their goals.

United Raises Miles for Dozens of Non-Profits that Rely on Travel

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In October 2019, we launched a first-of-its-kind airline miles donation platform, Miles on a Mission. In the inaugural year, MileagePlus members donated over 70 million miles, with United matching over 20 million miles, to 51 organizations. These miles have allowed for these organizations to do important, life-changing, life-saving work in the communities we serve around the globe.

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