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."

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.

Scroll to top