'When opportunity knocks, have your bags packed' - United Hub

'When opportunity knocks, have your bags packed'

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.

One of the more interesting things about pilots is the fact that most of them, from an early age, knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. Captain Glendon (Glen) Fraser is no exception. In fact, he can still pinpoint the exact moment the aviation bug bit him. "I was eight years old in Jamaica, lying in the grass, and I saw this white streak in the sky," he remembers. "I asked my mother what it was, and she told me. She said, 'One day you'll be able to fly on one yourself.' From that day forward I wanted to be a pilot, and I never took my eyes off of that goal."

More than four decades later, Glen is still living that young boy's dream as a 777 Captain and Assistant Chief Pilot at United's Newark base. But it wasn't always so easy. When he was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, there weren't many black pilots in the ranks of commercial airlines. For a young black man with aspirations of flying, finding a role model could be difficult. Glen managed to find his in an unlikely place. "I was in a Burger King in the Bronx (Glen, his mother and his six siblings immigrated to New York when he was young) when I was about 12 or 13, and I saw an African American guy in line. I knew he was a pilot because of the uniform, but I didn't let on; instead, I asked him what he did. He told me that he worked for United Airlines. It was the first time that I saw someone who looked like me who was a pilot. It made me believe that I could become one, too."

777 Captain and Assistant Chief Pilot, Glen Fraser Glen Fraser (left) at a Tuskegee Airmen event

Throughout high school, Glen excelled at baseball while harboring his dream of flying. One day during his senior year those two passions intersected in a most fortunate way. "We had a college recruitment fair in the school gymnasium, and the first booth I went to was the one for Embry-Riddle (the prestigious aeronautics university). The recruiter just happened to be the baseball coach; it was perfect." Glen went on to play ball at Embry-Riddle while taking flight training courses before being drafted by the Houston Astros. When an injury to his throwing arm derailed his baseball career, he turned his attention back to flying. It was during that time that he found another source of inspiration: The Tuskegee Airmen. Admitting that he knew very little about the famed World War II fliers, a book about the airmen titled The Lonely Eagles caught his attention. Not only did their story encourage him to become a pilot, it encouraged him to serve.

"I had always wanted to be in the military to pay a debt to this country, the country that helped me get where I was, but I also wanted to serve because of the Tuskegee Airmen."

After he was hired as a pilot by People Express, Glen was selected for the New York Air National Guard. While in the Guard, he attended a National Tuskegee Airmen convention in Chicago and found himself face-to-face with General Benjamin O. Davis, the legendary leader of the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee Army Air Base. That encounter led to him serving as president of the Major General Irene Trowell-Harris Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, a position that he occupies to this day. "We go around to schools, libraries, clubs — anywhere that will have us — and we talk about the Tuskegee Airmen and the difference that they have made not only in my life, but in the lives of so many others."

Glen most enjoys telling young people the story of the pioneering pilots. "I show them that you can do whatever you have a passion for, but you have to be determined, persistent and prepared. In our classroom we have a quote that says, 'When opportunity knocks, have your bags packed.' You can advance based on your merits, but you have to be ready and you have to have put in the work." After 31 years in the cockpit, Glen is acutely aware of the impact that he could have on the next generation of aviation, much like that pilot in the Burger King, or the one who flew over his home all those years ago. "Once, I was flying from Newark to Lima, and as we passed over Jamaica, I looked down to see where I used to live, and the thought hit me — what if there was another eight-year-old down there looking up at me?"

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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