Flying above the glass ceiling at United Airlines - United Hub

Flying above the glass ceiling

By The Hub team, November 01, 2019

For Bebe O'Neil, United's system chief pilot, a career in aviation was almost a no-brainer.

"My dad worked at Boston Logan airport as a private pilot," O'Neil said. "I would go watch the airplanes with him at work and got interested in aviation and aerodynamics."

O'Neil eventually decided to attend the Air Force Academy, and estimates that at the time, it was still just about 10% women.

"Women were not fully assimilated into the Air Force Academy, but we were no longer a novelty," she said. "You just had to execute, if not as well as your counterparts, then a little bit better."

The hard work paid off. O'Neil flew eight years in active duty with the Air Force and has been working her way up the ranks at United for 28 years.

While more and more woman are working in industries that are traditionally male-dominated, it's critical for those interests to be nurtured from a young age. We spoke with three United superstars — in flight operations, technology and global operations strategy — who all stressed the importance of having strong mentors from an early age.

For Linda Jojo, those role models were her father and later her high school math teacher.

"My father was an engineer and someone who really had high expectations of me and encouraged my interest in math and science," Jojo said. "He took me to the Air and Space Museum in D.C. in sixth grade."

Today, as United's executive vice president of technology and chief digital officer, she's been at the forefront of groundbreaking technology initiatives like ConnectionSaver, which helps reduce missed connections, and a chat tool that allows flight attendants and gate agents to communicate more seamlessly.

"One of the things that drew me to technology to begin with is the fact that things are always changing," she said. "You just think about the power you have in your smartphone and how that used to take up entire rooms."

It seems that Mandeep Grewal, United's vice president of Global Operations Strategy, Planning and Design, was destined for a career in aviation. She recalls spending her childhood traveling back and forth between her home in Zambia, Africa, and boarding school in India. "My brother and I grew up on airplanes," Grewal said.

Her mom was also one of the first women pilots in India back in the '50s. Growing up with these influences, "there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be in the airline industry from my early years," she said.

Grewal started out working in finance at Continental Airlines, and over the past three decades, she's gotten a breadth of experience in Pricing and Revenue Management and Customer Experience, Domestic Line Station Airport Operations and more. Through it all, she says she still wakes up in the morning excited to get to work and make an impact. "I couldn't imagine life anywhere else. Every day has brought new learnings for me," she said.

All three women said that they are constantly learning, and that this has been key to their success. Jojo noted that a simple way to make that progress is to prioritize listening as much as speaking. "Some of the people I learn the most from are the people I see every day," she said.

Her advice for women hoping to carve out successful careers in tech or aviation was simple: do what you love.

"We spend the majority of our lives at work, and we have to do something we're passionate about," she said.

As the founding president of United's uIMPACT business resource group, Grewal is passionate about creating a support network for women to help them step out of their comfort zones and take on new challenges. "As I've progressed through my career, I came to the realization that had I had anyone helping and guiding me, I may have made different decisions earlier in my career. [Five years ago,] I decided the time was right for me to step up and lead a group like that because I wanted to make sure I could guide many of the young girls entering United."

Grewal recalls being told by another women during her first week on the job at Continental that she'd never cut it in corporate America because she had three strikes against her: She was a woman, she was a woman of color, and she wasn't born in the U.S. Almost 30 years later, Grewal has shattered every stereotype that stood in her way, but she still thinks there's work to be done in terms of building more awareness about all the possibilities that are available to women in this industry. "It's amazing to me how many don't realize all the opportunities that exist in headquarters or in management roles or running airports," she said.

Luckily, young girls don't need to look very far for inspiration. "We have so many women in leadership roles right here," Grewal said. "Young girls have to see it done to envision it for themselves. Now there's a path they can follow."

O'Neil is also a proponent of clearing that path for the next generation, and proud that United is supporting the effort with a group of pilots that's 7.4% female.

"That is something that drives a lot of institutional change," she said. "We get out in the community and we celebrate women and their accomplishments."

United Awards Free Flights for a Year to Winners of "Your Shot to Fly" Sweepstakes

Grand prize winners live in Bradenton, FL; Cleveland, OH; Goodyear, AZ; Oakland, CA and San Francisco, CA
By United Newsroom, July 29, 2021

CHICAGO, July 29, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines today announced the five lucky grand prize winners of its "Your Shot to Fly" sweepstakes, who will each get to fly anywhere in the world United flies with a companion over the course of the next year. The winners of the "Your Shot to Fly" sweepstakes are:

  • Ashley Cronkhite from Bradenton, FL
  • Robert Simicak from Cleveland, OH
  • Sean Husmoe from Goodyear, AZ
  • Lauren Aldredge from Oakland CA
  • Lauren M. from San Francisco, CA

The sweepstakes was in support of the Biden administration's ongoing national effort to encourage more people to get their COVID-19 vaccination and encouraged United's MileagePlus® loyalty members to upload their vaccine records to United. In less than a month, more than one million MileagePlus members uploaded their vaccine cards to the United app and website for a shot to win one of the grand prizes. In June the airline awarded 30 first prize winners with a pair of roundtrip tickets anywhere United flies.

United First U.S. Airline to Offer Economy Customers Option to Pre-Order Snacks and Beverages

New pre-order option builds on the airline's contactless payment technology and is another example of the customer experience transformation underway at United
By United Newsroom, July 28, 2021

CHICAGO, July 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Starting today on select flights, all United customers – no matter what cabin of service they're flying in – can use the airline's award-winning mobile app and website to pre-order meals, snacks and beverages up to five days before they're scheduled to travel. United is the first and only U.S. airline to offer economy customers the option to pre-order snacks and beverages, a reflection of the customer experience transformation underway at the airline.



United Airlines to Operate More than 40 Weekly Flights as England Re-Opens to U.S. Travelers

In August, United is adding a second daily flight from Washington, D.C. to London
By United Newsroom, July 28, 2021

CHICAGO, July 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- With today's announcement of England reopening to fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. beginning Aug 2, United Airlines is making it easier for business and leisure customers to jet across the pond with the addition of flights to London. In August, United will have six daily flights between the U.S. and London, including a second daily flight from Washington, D.C. and increasing service from Houston to daily. United looks forward to resuming additional London service in the coming months as well as launching new nonstop service between Boston and London. Customers traveling to England must be fully vaccinated in the U.S. with vaccines that have been approved by the FDA and must take a test before departure as well as a PCR test within the first two days of arrival. Passengers vaccinated in the U.S. will also need to complete a passenger locator form prior to traveling to England and provide proof of U.S. residency.

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