Nearly 17,000 people fly United out of Los Angeles International Airport every day, a feat that is only possible through the work of thousands of employees. From the customer service desk to the cockpit, everyone plays a vital role in keeping the airline moving. On April 17, First Place for Youth participants had the opportunity to look behind the scenes, learn about the wide variety of careers available in the air travel industry, and hear from members of the United team about what it really takes to succeed.

Though they weren’t boarding a flight for an exotic destination, the experience was still an exciting one for our participants. In fact, the day marked the very first visit to an airport for several of those in attendance. Even going through the TSA security line—still a requirement for those visiting as guests of the airline—was a novelty for them!

Going Behind the Curtain

Our tour began with a trip down to the tarmac. We had an up-close view of the ramp agents as they ran through the process of prepping a flight for take-off, loading baggage and marshalling the plane as it began its pushback from the gate.

Then we visited United’s operations command center where our participants saw and heard how all the work of the various departments is coordinated to keep things moving smoothly. The shift supervisor gave us a chance to look at the day’s very busy schedule, on prominent display on a wall monitor. He explained how his team has to keep track of what is going on with every flight and how they often have to make quick adjustments and changes.

This stop also offered the first opportunity for youth to ask questions about the experience of working for United.

They lit up with interest at hearing that the airline offers entry-level jobs available for high school graduates, including part-time and summer seasonal jobs that could allow them to test their interest in the work.

“What if we have tattoos?” asked one youth.

“There are rules about a lot of things,” explained one of our guides. “Visible tattoos, piercings, what kind of jewelry we can wear. A lot of people wear long sleeves or scarves or use make-up to cover tattoos.”

Youth listened as our hosts offered details on how the dress code has changed over the years. They explained that, as ideas about fashion and business have changed, United has giving staff greater flexibility in their uniforms and self-expression. This opened a larger conversation about why dress codes matter in the workplace, what it means to be a representative of a company, and how employees reflect the values of a company in both appearance and behavior.

Making Connections

While seeing the united team at work made an impression, our participants especially enjoyed the chance they had to talk one-on-one with staff members as our day approached an end. Over a selection of snacks, First Place youth were able to have relaxed conversations with pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and others. This offered them the freedom to ask specific questions about the roles that most interested them and hear honest answers about the skills they need for success in that path.

United’s Employee Assistance Program Regional Manager, Louis Buchhold, was among those who offered valuable advice during a final question and answer panel. Sharing the twists and turns his own career path has taken, he said, “I cannot tell you how your career will go—I didn’t expect to end up here myself—but whatever you do, do it. Get involved, get invested, and never say no to an opportunity.

We know our youth will take this to heart as they move forward in their lives. We thank United for welcoming us for this inspiring day. We are so grateful for their continued support of our work and their ongoing encouragement of the young people we serve.

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