Our Amazing Women with A&P Technician Rachael Sullivan

In honor of Women in Aviation month, we’re featuring ExpressJet women who have successful careers in aviation and continue to advance the legacy of women in the industry. 

Rachael Sullivan

In college, Shreveport-based line mechanic Rachael Sullivan was one of two women in a class of 30 studying for an A&P license.

“There were only about five women total at the entire school,” said Rachael. She graduated from the Airframe and Powerplant program at the Redstone Institute in Houston, Texas, which provides training and instruction in industrial fields.

While she always had an inclination toward mechanics, she never thought she’d be destined for a career in aviation.

“In high school, I was determined to join the military. Unfortunately, my medical history prevented my enlistment.”

Instead, she enrolled in Redstone and earned her A&P license in 2006. After graduation, she landed an interview with ExpressJet and was immediately hired as an A&P technician in Shreveport.

“When I first started my career, there weren’t many women pursuing maintenance careers. The women I did come across mostly got started from their experience in the military.”

It takes physical agility, good judgment and a dedication to safety to be a successful aircraft technician, and Rachael has never once doubted her or any woman’s ability to work in the field.

“I imagine that there was once an attitude that women weren’t as capable, but nowadays it’s not an issue. I’ve never had problems with it being ‘a man’s world.’ If given the opportunity and you work hard enough, you can do this job.”

After nearly a decade in aviation, Rachael has noticed an increase in the number of women, including the number of female mechanics, hired by ExpressJet. She hopes to see more women break into the industry but recognizes there are other challenges.

“It would be nice for women to expand the field,” she said. “But as an individual, you first have to be mechanically inclined and maintenance is a very specialized career. Many people don’t think of it when they think of airlines.”

Rachael encourages women interested in aviation careers to consider maintenance, and she hopes they never view their gender as a disadvantage, especially when in pursuit of a career not often considered by young girls.

“Women need to know we can hold our own and be successful in any career if we put our minds to it.”

Our Amazing Women with Dispatcher Kimberly Bates

In honor of Women in Aviation month, we’re featuring ExpressJet women who have successful careers in aviation and continue to advance the legacy of women in the industry. 

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For Atlanta-based dispatcher Kimberly Bates, life is about having the courage to take the road less traveled, especially when in pursuit of a lifelong dream.

“Since childhood, I wanted to work with airplanes, but for years people told me I couldn’t,” said Kimberly. “I eventually stopped listening to those people.”

The daughter of an Air Force pilot, Kimberly realized her life’s passion when she took her first commercial airline trip at the age of five.

“I was hooked. The flight attendants gave me wings and I vividly remember looking out the window and watching the clouds pass by. I’ve had a wicked case of wanderlust ever since.”

In 1978, during deregulation of the airline industry, Kimberly graduated high school only to find her dream career wasn’t available to most women. At the time, most aviation professionals entered the commercial airline industry through the Air Force, which first opened its doors to female cadets in 1976. Still, Kimberly faced impossible roadblocks.

“I could never meet the height requirements. I was too small to be a military pilot and too small to be a flight attendant.”

With a dream derailed, Kimberly enrolled in college and worked in pharmaceutical sales before returning to school for an MBA. In 1990, she appeared to accomplish her goals when a major airline hired her as an analyst in their passenger sales department.

“I finally worked for an airline, but the job wasn’t with planes. When I expressed interest in moving into operations, I was told, again, it wasn’t the right path for me.”

Kimberly left after two years and bounced from medical sales to telecommunications and project management. When her job was eventually outsourced, she decided to give the airline industry another try.

As fate would have it, while on a flight from New York Kimberly was seated next to a non-reving flight attendant who told her the previous height requirements for flight attendants no longer existed within the industry. Despite the welcome news, she faced another challenge – timing. With two toddlers at home, it wasn’t the right moment to pursue a job involving extensive travel. Instead, Kimberly encouraged her friend to apply and she was hired by Continental Express Airlines.

Three years later, that same friend notified her when ExpressJet opened a station in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where Kimberly lived at the time. In 2004, a decade after her previous airline experience, Kimberly was hired as a cross-trained agent before transferring to Inflight as a flight attendant.

“I owe an immense debt to the gentleman who hired me at ExpressJet. Despite my background and education, he believed me when I told him, ‘I just want to work with planes.’”

After three years as a flight attendant, Kimberly longed to learn more about operations and decided to earn a dispatcher license. In February 2015, she happily returned to dispatch after a period of working in the Inflight training department.

Kimberly knows her career path is an unusual journey.

“Technically, I’m still in training! Eleven years with ExpressJet and I’m the most junior CRJ dispatcher,” she laughed. “But my exposure and experience in different departments allowed me to do some fabulous things and better understand the operations at ExpressJet from both sides. I wanted to learn as much as I could, and I’m glad I was willing to take a different step and try something new.”

Kimberly’s patience and relentless persistence is a testament to her adventurous spirit. Though her journey to the OCC was years in the making, she recognizes the hurdles women overcame to make their mark in the airline industry.

“When I was younger, women in aviation were a tremendous exception. The doors were not wide open. There was no mentorship or support available. Today, you meet a lot of females in the industry.”

Kimberly is excited to see more women joining the industry, a fact she noticed when she represented ExpressJet during the 26th Annual Women in Aviation Conference in Dallas, Texas. She credits the increase in women aviation professionals to the generational change in attitude towards women in traditionally male-dominated work environments, as well as the changes in the career path to commercial aviation and exposure to new career opportunities.

“It’s amazing how the world’s turned over in the past few decades. People no longer say a woman can’t do a job because of her gender.”

A travel enthusiast, Kimberly is a published travel writer and photographer, and she advocates taking advantage of the privileges of working for an airline.

“Where else can you fly home to see your family for one day or travel to another city for your favorite restaurant?” she said.

Kimberly also serves as a mentor to others and encourages people to open themselves up to new possibilities and be daring with their career choices.

“There’s this idea that once you’re on one path, you have to stay on that path. If you’re willing to step sideways or even backwards, you may find yourself with an opportunity that puts you two steps forward. It took me 25 years to get into this business, and the incredible opportunities I’ve had are the result of not following one path.”

Our Amazing Women with Safety Manager Kristina Serrano

In honor of Women in Aviation month, we’re featuring ExpressJet women who have successful careers in aviation and continue to advance the legacy of women in the industry. 

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As an Army brat brought up among supportive military families, Kristina Serrano, manager – Voluntary Safety Programs, was drawn to the aviation industry by its similar close-knit community.

“The familial environment of working for an airline made me feel right at home,” said Kristina.

Kristina’s aviation career began in 1998 by pure chance when a friend announced she needed a roommate to relocate in North Carolina.

“My friend bet me that I wouldn’t move with her and I bet her that I would. And I did.”

She found a classified ad for American Airlines and was hired by their call center. In 2002, her college professor told her Continental Express Airlines was hiring for positions at the Asheville airport and suggested she apply.

“Originally, I applied to finish my internship requirements but the job stuck with me.”

Kristina worked as a cross-utilized agent in Asheville which lead to her current position as manager of ExpressJet’s voluntary reporting programs, such as ASAP and the Fatigue Program.

“I like to say we’re the mortar in the bricks. We take the data that comes from pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and dispatchers and we help sort through and disseminate that information back to the frontline.”

Back in her early days in aviation, Kristina didn’t find many women pursuing careers in the airline industry as a long-term goal.

“When I first started out, I worked with a good amount of women, but for many, including myself initially, it was just a job. But I was very lucky to go to Newark for a training class and meet the instructor, an incredibly smart woman named Rose Marie Morgan.”

Kristina approached Rose, who still works for ExpressJet, to offer her bilingual skills as a Spanish speaker and Kristina ended up working directly for her in Houston.

“Under her guidance, I learned how to train people and how to conduct new hire classes for employees working in the airports. She was a great influence and I credit her for making me think of my job as a new career,” said Kristina.

Kristina believes there is a lack of awareness of the diverse career opportunities within the industry, especially among those unfamiliar with an airline’s behind-the-scene jobs.

“From the outside looking in, people tend to have a skewed viewpoint of what they can do at an airline. You’re either a pilot or a flight attendant and that’s it. In reality, there are so many careers women could easily accomplish if the knowledge was out there.”

Since 1998, Kristina has witnessed a huge increase in the number of women she interacts with in her job.

“I remember going to industry meetings and when I looked around the room, there were maybe a handful of women. Now, it’s 40 to 45 percent. Of course, it depends on the group but there are more women than ever before.” Kristina encourages others to have passion, persistence, and an open attitude in order to achieve a successful and fulfilling career. She also recognizes the breakthroughs women have made to accomplish their career goals within the industry.

“Everything should always be based on merit and being a woman doesn’t mean you can’t do something,” she said. “But I think that first woman, and every woman to follow her, made a tremendous impact on the others who looked inside and said, ‘Hey, I can do that too.’”

ExpressJet’s very own American Ninja Warrior

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Atlanta-based ExpressJet First Officer Brandon Arrington is a dedicated athlete, so when he got the call that he had been chosen to appear on the NBC reality show “American Ninja Warrior,” an athletic competition show in which contestants compete in a series of increasingly difficult obstacle courses, he was certainly excited.

“My friends and colleagues insisted I apply,” said Brandon. “When I got the call, I was pumped – no, ecstatic. Everyone high-fived me.”

Thousands of applicants applied for the show’s Southeast regional competition. Only 120 contestants are chosen to run the course, and of those, the top 30 finishers are featured on the show. Brandon first competed on American Ninja Warrior in 2013, and was selected to return the following season in 2014. Now he’s up for his third appearance, and will soon know if he is selected.

“I was caught up in the excitement of getting chosen,” he said. “Then reality hit, and I realized I had two weeks to train.”

As a pilot, Brandon is no stranger to training, but this time he was preparing physically for an athletic competition on national television. In spite of the brief preparation time, Brandon was more than ready to compete. He’d been physically active his whole life and had a regular exercise routine.

“The show tests your upper body strength, balance, jumping and sprinting. I’d been doing CrossFit for a few years, and it’s worked really great for training,” he explained.

His first time on the show, Brandon tore his triceps muscle a week before filming. Despite this setback, he was given the green light to compete and made it through the first course easily. The second night, he fell on the pipe slider obstacle which requires the competitor to hang from a metal bar and slide along a track while gaining enough momentum to leap from the pipe to a cargo net obstacle.

Brandon says the best part of the competition is spending time with his family: his wife Kala and their young son, Connor.

“They are my inspiration and support during the competition. At one point, I was climbing the Warped Wall, and I had to get over this ledge. I didn’t know how I was going to get my arm over my head because of the injury but my adrenaline was pumping, and I could hear my wife and mother-in-law cheering me on. I looked and saw Kala holding up my son, dressed in a ninja outfit. She was yelling ‘do it for your little ninja!’ It was cheesy, but I was able to get up over that wall.”

NBC asked Brandon to return the following year. Two months before filming, he endured another training injury – this time tearing his middle deltoid and part of his rotator cuff. Again, his family helped him get past the setback.

“The first night, I blew through the course and thought I could take on the second night with no problem, but the other contestants and I all failed. It was disappointing, but it served as my motivation for coming back next year.”

The second night’s obstacle course required contestants to jump from giant, bouncy balls – a tough challenge made even more difficult by the pouring rain.

Brandon inherited his love for exercise and sports from his father, who passed away in 2010.

“My dad was an amazing athlete,” he said. “We played sports together. He worked two jobs but always made time for me and my brother.”

Although his training physically prepared him for the competition, his career as a pilot prepared him mentally.

“My job as a pilot helped me learn to not get worked up in stressful situations. It helps with handling pressure, being able to control your heartbeat and being comfortable in front of people.”

Outside of work and the show, Brandon constantly stays physically active.

“It’s a conscious decision, and you’ve got to stick with it. Find something you’re passionate about that’s fun for you. That’s also why I love my job as a pilot – I get to do something I love and have fun doing it.”

Though he’s waiting for the official word from NBC, Brandon looks forward to returning to American Ninja Warrior. The next season will film in Orlando, and it would give him a chance to take his son to Disney World.

“I’m just a big kid at heart,” he said. “I love to do anything that tests my physical and mental abilities.”

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Brandon on the American Ninja Warriors obstacle course

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Brandon with his wife Kala and his “little ninja” Connor at the American Ninja Warrior competition

ExpressJet people rally around Captain Scott Z. to help his daughter get a service dog

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It’s no secret that it takes a special type of person to be a part of the airline industry. Its constant change can be challenging, but it’s this experience that bonds aviation professionals to one another. ExpressJet is no exception to this rule.

In many ways, our employees are like family. One person’s successes and struggles are everyone’s, and perhaps no one knows this better than Cleveland-based Captain Scott Z. and his family.

Scott has been with ExpressJet for nearly decade, but the compassion of his fellow employees still amazes him to this day.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I asked people for help,” said Scott. “The response we’ve gotten has been incredible. There are no words to tell you what this means to my family.”

Scott’s family was blessed with two daughters. His older daughter, Kaitlynn, was everything Scott and his wife, Michaelle, asked for. As they navigated parenthood for the first time, watching their little girl grow, it became clear that there was something wrong. She wasn’t meeting her milestones and at seven months had her first seizure.

Five years and countless hospital tests later, Kaitlynn is still undiagnosed. Doctors believe she has a chromosome disorder, but it’s impossible to say which. The disorder has hindered her development, keeping her from learning how to walk or communicate.

Through research, Scott and Michaelle learned that a service dog may help Kaitlynn. A service dog’s companionship and seizure sensing ability would be invaluable to Kaitlynn, but Scott believes it could impact her social development as well.

“She can’t talk, but at the same time, she’s so social,” said Scott. “She’s at that age where she should be starting preschool, but it’s tough. Kids that age will shy away from her, because she’s different. If she has a dog though, the dog would be her icebreaker. It would bring the kids around her and expand her world to a type of social interaction she’s never had.”

Though there are an infinite number of ways Kaitlynn could benefit from a service dog, the price is steep: $10,000. Out of financial means, Scott and Michaelle turned to social media for help. Although they had some success, Scott had no expectations when he reached out to some of his fellow ExpressJet pilots. The story spread up through the corporate office, and a story was posted on the company intranet.

“It just went viral. People I didn’t fly with, that I didn’t even know, contributed to help Kaitlynn. It was amazing.”

Scott and Michaelle are well on their way to getting Kaitlynn a service dog. They have a few more months to finish raising the money, and then they’ll receive a dog from the non-profit organization, Working Animals Giving Service for Kids (WAGS) by early next year.

“Whenever we show her pictures of potential dogs, Kaitlynn shouts with happy noises and waves her arms in excitement,” said Scott. “This experience showed us how great it is to have so much support from everyone in the company. It means we don’t have to focus on things that don’t matter, like money, and we can focus on things that do matter, like being there for Kaitlynn.”

Hopefully, Scott and his family will have the funding for Kaitlynn’s service dog sooner than they think. In the two days since this story posted on ExpressJet’s internal website, employees, along with friends and family, have raised more than $5,000 for Kaitlynn’s service dog. With any luck, this will only be the start of something amazing for Scott and his wonderful family.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kaitlynn’s journey and how you can help her get a service dog, visit her GoFundMe page.

scott and Kaitlynn

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