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!

Adjusting to Customer Demand, United Adds New Nonstop Service to Florida

By United Newsroom, August 12, 2020

CHICAGO, Aug. 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines today announced plans to add up to 28 daily nonstop flights this winter connecting customers in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four popular Florida destinations. The new, nonstop flights reflect United's continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.

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.

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