Welcome to the flight attendant life
Standing in the Chicago O'Hare International Airport inflight lounge in mid-September, waiting as the minutes ticked down to her departure, United Airlines flight attendant Kaylee Bruno paced back and forth, nervously checking her phone. Other flight attendants moved about the lounge with their black roller bags in tow, but Kaylee was busy watching the clock.
Before her flight was scheduled to leave for Cleveland, Kaylee took an elevator up to the concourse level, walked to her gate and watched as the aircraft taxied to the passenger loading bridge. Two customers noticed her uniform and began to chat with her, asking questions familiar to many crew members, “What's it like being a flight attendant?" “How long have you worked at United?" The first question was tough for Kaylee to answer at that moment, but the second was easy — it was her first day on the job.
Nearly two months earlier, Kaylee arrived at United's flight attendant training center in Houston for the six-week-long new hire training course. From a young age, she was attracted to the idea of living a life on the move and meeting new people, and she dreamed of becoming a flight attendant. She bided her time in college until her 21st birthday, when she was finally able to apply for a position.
Kaylee was well-prepared, but she quickly realized that training would be challenging and engaging. The course schedule and topics are designed to give participants a realistic look into the world of flight attendants. They experienced the varied hours that crew members keep, with classes scheduled both day and night. The standards are high; procedural and safety violations can mean being sent home. “The instructors are tough on you," she recounted, “but it's only because they want you to look and act the part of a professional flight attendant from day one."
Naturally, since flight attendants are the face of United to our customers, service is an important part of their training regimen. But being a flight attendant is about so much more; they are also first responders in the sky. “We went through CPR training, learned how to put out fires and evacuate aircraft, and were taught what to do in the event of a water landing. Safety is a big part of it," said Kaylee.
She described her time in Houston as intense, but rewarding. “Training is not at all like what most people expect," she said. “There were a lot of tears of joy and relief shed when we finally got those wings." Aside from graduation and earning your wings, arguably no event is as memorable in a flight attendant's life as his or her first working flight.
The day of her first trip, Kaylee arrived at the airport earlier than was required. She was scheduled for a 3-day turn, first to Cleveland, then on to Buffalo and Salt Lake City before returning home (after Salt Lake City, she was rescheduled to a unexpected fourth trip to Washington, D.C.). At the gate, Kaylee met the first of her fellow crew members, flight attendant Aja Clark. “I'm going to stay close by your side," Kaylee joked as they boarded the Boeing 737 together.
The first leg was only 51 minutes long, and turbulence kept the flight attendants in their seats for most of it. Shortly before they began their descent, the captain turned off the fasten seatbelts sign, so the crew began a truncated beverage service. Even with the time crunch, Kaylee handled it like a seasoned pro. She was friendly, patient and accommodating to each customer, an excellent representation of United. Her co-workers gave Kaylee their approval. “I had no idea that it was even her first trip," said fellow flight attendant Lisa Blackstone. Kaylee, too, felt good about her performance, saying, “For some reason, I wasn't really nervous. I was much more nervous on a later leg of the trip, when I had to give the safety demonstration. I had a slight moment of panic before grabbing the microphone."
After arriving in Cleveland, Kaylee and the rest of the crew took photos together to commemorate her milestone trip. Then it was back to work – they had less than half an hour to prepare the aircraft for the return flight to Chicago before continuing on to Buffalo.
A few days later, back at home, Kaylee still felt the high of that first flight. “It was fun," she said. “So far everything has been very enjoyable, and all of the people have been great." She has also adapted well to her new semi-nomadic lifestyle. On her days off, Kaylee lives in her hometown a couple of hours' drive from Chicago. When on-duty, she shares an apartment near the airport with other flight attendants, never knowing where she'll end up until the call comes in for her next trip assignment.
Looking to the future, she's grateful for the opportunities ahead of her at United. “Hopefully I'll get the chance to move around the country," she said. “I'm just ready to take each day as it comes and see where this career can take me."
In the midst of mobilizing our cargo operations, our teams at New York/Newark (EWR) and Jacksonville (JAX) stepped in to assist Roche Diagnostics with transporting a vital component for an instrument being used for COVID-19 testing.
The component was stuck at EWR en route to the Mayo Clinic in Florida after another airline's flights were cancelled. A Roche employee contacted us asking for help and, within a few hours, our teams had the piece loaded onto a Jacksonville-bound aircraft, with arrangements in place to deliver it to the Mayo Clinic.
The item we shipped will allow the Mayo Clinic in Florida to process hundreds of COVID-19 tests per day. Mayo Clinic Laboratories has been on the front lines of increasing testing capacity to expedite caring for patients at this critical time and working to ease the burden being felt at test processing laboratories in a growing number of areas.
We are going above and beyond to find creative ways to transport fresh food and produce, as well as basic essentials from the U.S. mainland to military and their families in Guam/Micronesia. On Saturday, March 28, we operated an exclusive cargo-only B777-300 charter to transport nearly 100,000 pounds of food essentials to Guam to support our troops.
In addition, we move mail year-round all over the world. In response to COVID-19, and in support of the military members and their families overseas, we implemented a charter network, transporting military mail to Frankfurt, which is then transported all over Europe and the Middle East. Since March 20, we have flown 30,000+ pounds of military mail every day between Chicago O'Hare (ORD) and Frankfurt (FRA). On the return flight from Frankfurt to Chicago, we have carried an average of 35,000 pounds of mail to help families stay connected.
"Connecting products and mail to people around the world is the United Cargo mission," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "Keeping our military families connected with the goods they need, and keeping them connected with loved ones to feel a sense of home, is of critical importance. As a company that has long supported our military families and veterans, our teams are proud to mobilize to lend a hand."
On average, we ship more than 1 billion pounds of cargo every year on behalf of domestic and international customers. For more information, visit unitedcargo.com.
To our customers,
I hope this note finds you and your loved ones healthy and well.
It is safe to say these past weeks have been among some of the most tumultuous and emotional that any of us can remember in our lifetimes. The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been felt by individuals and families, companies and communities, across the United States and around the world.
The response to this crisis has been extraordinary; as much for what it has required from our society as for what it has revealed of us as a people.
Far from causing division and discord, this crisis and the social distancing it has required, has allowed us to witness something profound and moving about ourselves: our fond and deeply felt wish to be connected with one another.
The role of connector is one we're privileged to play in the moments that matter most in your life – weddings and graduations, birthdays and business trips, events large and small – and it's that responsibility that motivates us most to get back to our regular service, as soon as possible.
That is why it is so important our government acted on a comprehensive relief act to ensure our airline – and our industry – are ready and able to serve you again when this crisis abates.
I want to relay to you, in as deeply personal a way I can, the heartfelt appreciation of my 100,000 United team members and their families for this vital public assistance to keep America and United flying for you.
This support will save jobs in our business and many others. And it allows us time to make decisions about the future of our airline to ensure that we can offer you the service you deserve and have come to expect as our customers.
While consumer demand has fallen, we have seen the need for our service and capabilities shifted. And, we've adapted to help meet those needs.
Right now, aircraft flying the United livery and insignia, flown by our aviation professionals, have been repurposed to deliver vital medical supplies and goods to some of the places that need it most. We're also using several of our idle widebody aircraft to use as dedicated charter cargo flights, at least 40 times per week, to transfer freight to and from U.S. locations as well as to key international business locations. At the same time, we are working in concert with the U.S. State Department to bring stranded Americans who are trying to return home back to their loved ones.
While much remains uncertain right now, one thing is for sure: this crisis will pass. Our nation and communities will recover and United will return to service you, our customers. When that happens, we want you to fly United with even greater pride because of the actions we took on behalf of our customers, our employees and everyone we serve.
Stay safe and be well,
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.