Wing Walking in the Sky - United Hub

Wing walking in the sky

By The Hub team

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By Frankfurt-based Flight Attendant Sabrina Swenson

My first take to the skies on the outside of an aircraft was eight years ago. In 2010, the idea to go wing walking came into my head as I was visiting my mother in the United States. We stopped at a small airport cafe for breakfast. While looking over the menu, certain dishes had nicknames like "the pilot," "the flight attendant," and there it was..."the wing walker!" I thought, "Hmm, that would be fun!" After a lot of research, I proceeded to the outskirts of London, where there was a wing walking operation. At the time, it was the only place in the world to do any type of wing walking, unless you were a professional wing walker. One type of wing walking includes being strapped into a standing position on top of an old Boeing Stearman biplane and from there you take off, riding on top for the entire flight. It was a fantastic experience that I enjoyed immensely. Eight years had past when I heard about a place in Washington state that teaches wing walking, where you can walk out on the wing during the flight. I knew I had to do it, and what better occasion than to celebrate my 50th birthday?

I flew to Seattle and rented a car for the two-hour drive to the small town of Sequim. This beautiful town is surrounded by fields of lavender and is home to lovely people. When I arrived at Mason Wing Walking Academy bright and early the following morning, I found two Boeing Stearman planes in the hangar. The wing walker greeted me and, since I was the only person who had signed up that day, we immediately began training. The entire morning was spent reviewing and practicing the wing walking moves I would make. Over and over, I practiced learning what to do and not to do in flight.

After training all morning and into the early afternoon, the pilot arrived, flying in with his own plane. I learned his other job was as a UPS 747 cargo pilot out of Anchorage, Alaska. That put my mind at ease about his flying abilities. Once he had the biplane ready to go, I climbed in the front seat (as the pilot flies from the back). We took off quickly from the short grass strip, and it wasn't long before we were enjoying the views. The Olympic Peninsula and the gorgeous Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates Canada and the United States is stunning. The water was a beautiful shade of blue.

Upon reaching the appropriate altitude and slowing down to just above a stall speed, the pilot wagged the wings, letting me know it was time to get out. I looked back to see him giving me the thumbs up. With that encouragement, I left my seat and grabbed the two hand holds above me, fighting the wind the entire time. I carefully made my way up between the cables above me to the pole on top of the plane. I leaned against it and buckled into the four-point harness. After giving the thumbs up, the pilot proceeded to do aerobatics, including loops, barrel rolls and hammerheads. I hung on to the pole for the first loop, but after the first one was completed successfully, I threw caution to the wind and held out both arms! After enjoying the weightlessness of aerobatics, he eventually returned to straight flight so I could enjoy the view. He wagged the wings again, letting me know it was time to come back in. After slowly retreating to my seat, making sure I had three points of contact with the plane at all times, I buckled in once more.

You wouldn't think wing walking is exhausting, but it is. I was given time to recuperate and, once ready, headed out again, this time to the lower wing. This exit was much more challenging as once outside and on the left wing, the prop blast was fierce. I eventually made it to the javelin, which was located between the cables in the middle of the wing, and wedged myself in. This position didn't have a harness; however, I was so wedged between all the cables, I wasn't going anywhere. Once I gave the thumbs up, we were doing aerobatics once more. My favorite was the hammerhead, which is flying straight up for some time, a rotation and then straight down. After much flying around, the pilot once again wagged the wings, indicating that it was time for me to come back to my seat.

I could have spent all day in the sky, but soon enough my time was finished. I slowly climbed back into the plane, making sure to step where I was instructed. The wing of a Boeing Stearman is partially canvas so one step in the wrong place and your foot would make a hole in the structure. I made it back to my seat without incident and strapped myself in one last time. The pilot brought us back to the grass strip and the hangar as I smiled from ear to ear. The professional wing walker congratulated me upon our arrival.

People often ask if I was tethered to the plane. Yes, I was. I had a long cable attached to me and the strut of the plane at all times. However, it's imperative that you take the training seriously and are careful while moving around in the air.

My time wing walking in beautiful Sequim will live on in my memory until my last day. You simply don't forget one of the best days of your life!

Celebrating immigration perspectives and diverse journeys

By The Hub team, September 25, 2020

From Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the U.S. celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, a chance to pay tribute to the history, culture and contributions that generations of Latinxs have paved to enrich U.S. history. It is also a reminder to celebrate our differences and spark difficult, yet important, conversations.

To kick off the month, UNITE, our multicultural business resource group for employees, did just that by hosting a panel discussion about the immigrant experience and what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S.

United Litigation and Managing Counsel Elizabeth Lopez, who is a pro bono immigration attorney, moderated the panel, and was joined by Ashley Huebner, Associate Director of Legal Services at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Magdalena Gonzalez, Program Manager, Leadership Development Programs at Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement. The three women shared their insights and personal stories, while addressing some misconceptions and highlighting the contributions of immigrants to our company and country.

Participants' headshots from United's Hispanic Heritage Month Panel From left to right, Elizabeth Lopez, Ashely Huebner and Magdalena Gonzalez

"I started to notice that there were things I was scared of doing, that I needed to be cautious," said Magdalena while sharing her personal experience as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient. "My friends, who a majority of them are citizens, did not need to worry about that. As I was able to see that, I realized that, 'oh, there's so many things that revolve around not just being a DACA recipient but revolve around being a person with an undocumented status here in the United States.'"

United maintains a close relationship with the NIJC. In May of 2019, United co-hosted an asylum clinic put on by the legal services organization, where several attorneys and legal professionals were trained on representing asylum-seeking applicants. At the end of the clinic, members of our legal department were assigned an asylum case through the NIJC.

Litigation Managing Counsel Elizabeth Lopez, Commercial Transactions Counsel Tiffany Jaspers, Global Compliance and Ethics Counsel Nancy Jacobson and Employment Litigation Senior Manager Dorothy Karpierz were partnered with attorneys from the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery to take on an immigration case of a mother of three from Honduras. Recently, after a years-long court battle, the legal team was victorious, changing the life of the woman and her family.

United is committed to connecting people and uniting the world. Whether you're an immigrant, a child of immigrants or simply want to learn more about the immigrant experience in the U.S., discussions like these, related to this hot-button issue, are important to have in order to understand the human lives behind it.

Make your voice heard

By Brett J. Hart, September 22, 2020

Your voice matters. Voting is one of the most influential civic activities we can engage in as Americans. At United, our mission is to connect people and unite the world — and one of the most important ways to do that is to engage in the democratic process. That's why we've long provided our employees with resources to help them get registered to vote.

This year, we're taking our support a step further as the official airline of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). Since the start of the pandemic, we've overhauled our cleaning measures through a program we call United CleanPlusSM , and the CPD has placed their trust in United to fly Commission production staff to each of the four debates, starting with the first one on September 29, hosted by Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University.

Today, on National Voter Registration Day, we also want to make sure our customers have access to information about how to participate in the 2020 Election. Over the past several months, you've heard a lot from us about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed air travel. We've learned that with some planning and extra effort, it's still possible — and safe. That's true of voting, too.

No matter which party you support or how you're planning to vote, we know our democracy will be stronger if you make your voice heard and make a plan to vote.

Best,

Brett J. Hart
President
United Airlines

United named to Year Up Opportunity Hall of Fame

By The Hub team, September 17, 2020

Since its launch 20 years ago, Year Up, one of our critical needs grant recipients, has helped more than 10,000 young adults gain access to corporate business and technical experience at large companies like United while offering the invaluable perspectives they bring with them.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit inducted United into its Opportunity Hall of Fame – a selection that occurs once every five years.

Year Up's mission is to help close the opportunity divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Since 2018, our partnership has allowed talented student learners the opportunity to gain corporate business experience and technical skill training at the airline while bringing their unique perspectives to our United family and culture. One of those students is Emily Lopez, who graduated from the Year Up program in January 2019 and was hired to be part of the United family as an analyst in Revenue Management.

"I moved from Venezuela to the United States in July 2016 and being a young immigrant with no resources can be difficult to pursue a career in a new country," said Emily.

After learning about Year Up and ultimately being accepted into the program, Emily landed an internship with United, an opportunity she is very grateful for.

Emily Lopez - Analyst, Pricing & Revenue Management

"Feedback from my mentors, coaches and managers was key during my internship phase and helped me convert my internship at United to a full-time position. I am grateful for the opportunity United has provided me and my Year Up Alumni colleagues to keep building a professional career within the company. I am so excited to continue building a professional career with the company and to see United being inducted to Year Up's Hall of Fame. Let's continue closing the opportunity divide!" said Emily.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has made this year's partnership a bit more difficult, we continue to do our part to support the Year Up student learners. Last month, we surprised 145 graduates of this year's Year Up Chicago program with roundtrip tickets to pursue career and networking opportunities within the United States.

"I've been personally honored and inspired to be an advocate for Year Up since I joined United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "This program gives young people from challenged backgrounds an opportunity to get their foot in the door as interns at United. This year's graduates are entering a challenging job landscape, but we have one thing that can help: a route network that provides easy access to major business markets across the United States."

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