Twice as Hard - United Hub

Twice as hard

By Matt Adams

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.

Not everyone is cut out to be a trailblazer. It requires just the right mix of guts, determination and, maybe most importantly, a thick skin. Lacking even one of those qualities is enough to stop a would-be pioneer in their tracks, sending them home in defeat. But for United Airlines First Officer Theresa Claiborne, losing was never an option.

"My mother always told me, 'You have to be twice as good.' That's why I was always so hard on myself," Theresa says.

You have to be twice as good. It's a phrase that many African Americans heard as children, foreshadowing the inequality that they were likely to face at some point in their lives. Theresa used that as her motivation to not only flourish over her 26-plus year career at United, but also in becoming the first African American woman pilot in the United States Air Force.

United Pilot, Theresa Claiborne

"I had no idea that I would be a barrier-breaker," she says. "When I was going through pilot training, a guy who had been in ROTC with me called me up and said, "Theresa, you're the first,' and I said, 'The first what?' We researched the records, and sure enough – I had the chance to be the first African American woman to fly in the Air Force."

Looking back on it today, Theresa is grateful that she wasn't aware of that fact until her training was nearly complete. "When I found out, I knew that people would be looking at me and wondering if I could do it. I'm glad that I didn't know until the last couple of months of training; flight school was already the most difficult thing I had ever done without that extra pressure."

While in college, Theresa entered the University of California-Berkeley's ROTC program, and it was there that she got her first taste of flying, riding along in an Air Force T-37 training jet. "That one flight is all it took; it was the best thing ever," she recalls with a smile. From that point forward, she knew what she wanted to do, but there was a major hurdle to overcome: At that time, the military only gave out ten pilot slots each year to women who were non-service academy graduates. By the time Theresa took the oath to join the military, those ten spots were filled.

But midway through her first year in ROTC, the Air Force determined that female trainees washed out at the same rate as their male counterparts (roughly a third fail to graduate from training).They increased the allotment to 30 women per year just in time for Theresa to accomplish the necessary prerequisites and be selected for flight training.

For the next 20 years - seven years of active duty and thirteen in the reserves - she flew the KC-135, a massive refueling plane dubbed the "stratotanker." Theresa flew missions overseas in the early-1990s during Operation Desert Shield and in the mid-90s over the Balkans during the Yugoslavian civil war. And in January 1990 Theresa joined United, at a time when she was one of only a handful of African American pilots working at the airline.

"In years past, you didn't really see many black pilots anywhere. Being hired by United was a big deal; African American pilots were a small group, and African American women pilots were an even smaller group. Over the years, younger pilots have said to me, 'Thank you so much, Theresa, for paving the way,' and that warms my heart. I always thank them, but then I remind them that it's up to them to continue to clear that path for the young people behind them."

To be sure, it wasn't always easy. "When I was in the Air Force, my co-pilot and I were planning a mission. Another crew walked in and their Captain went over the details with my co-pilot. When he was finished, my co-pilot looked at him and said, 'That sounds good, but maybe you should talk to the Commander' and he pointed at me. My co-pilot was a white male, and that Captain obviously thought that there was no way that I could be the Commander. We laughed about it, but it was an opportunity to educate that person."

Over the years, Theresa has seen gradual improvement in that regard. "I wasn't hired at this airline just because I was black, and I haven't lasted this long due to that fact, either. Thankfully, at this point, I no longer feel like I have to prove that I deserve to be here. But I also strive to do a good job so that the next person doesn't have to work twice as hard to get where I am."

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.

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