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!

United Cargo operates more than 11,000 cargo-only flights in one year

By The Hub team, March 19, 2021

On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.

10 tips for spring travel

By The Hub team, February 24, 2021

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.

Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.

United joins UNICEF COVAX initiative

By The Hub team, February 19, 2021

This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.

"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.

We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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