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 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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