AT COMMUTEAIR, WE HAVE GREAT PEOPLE WITH GREAT STORIES TO SHARE.
As a regional airline and United Express partner, we play an important role in connecting people and communities to the world via United Airlines’ global network, but we’re also a critical step in the careers of those working in the airline industry. Our “Featured Crew” series tells the individual stories of standout members of our team whose hard work makes our organization unique.
We’re taking this opportunity to share a story from one of the standout members of our diverse team: Talent Acquisition Specialist – Shanae Dunn! Shanae has been bringing smiles and sparkles to the CommuteAir Community for the past five years – first as a Flight Attendant and now with our Talent Acquisition Team!
How did your aviation journey begin?
I worked in the hospitality industry for years – I was Onboarding Training Supervisor for one of the biggest hotels in Atlanta, GA. I managed the contracts for the airline crews that came in because we operated as a crew hotel. Naturally, I encountered many Pilots, Flight Attendants, and other folks in the industry who were traveling through Atlanta! Lots of times they would say to me, “You know…you’d make a great Flight Attendant!”
Being right downtown in a big city made my job demanding, and I started to realize the number of people checking in to the hotel on Friday and leaving on Sunday and thought, “They’re enjoying my city more than I am!” I started thinking about a change, and realized how much I wanted to spend more time with my three boys so I asked them what they thought I should do.
“What do you want to do more than anything, mama?”
I knew the answer was “Travel,” but I was a single mom who couldn’t afford to take them on vacation, and I worked so much and so long that they saw their grandparents, aunts and uncles more than they saw me. I always wanted to show my children the world. I wanted to break every mental and societal statistic that can be placed on young men of color. I wanted to show them they could be anything and go anywhere and mean it.
So, I went online and began applying to airlines and found CommuteAir!
Describe your journey to becoming a Talent Acquisition Specialist.
I was flown to Newark, New Jersey and received a Flight Attendant job offer in January of 2018! The Flight Attendant training was a tough three weeks, but it created relationships that I still maintain today (last year I went to my old training buddy’s wedding in NY)!
I have always loved training others so much and had done it for years in the hospitality industry, so I was asking the Inflight Team questions before I even completed my own training about how to become an instructor. Within the next year, an instructor position came up and I became an Air Transportation Supervisor (ATS). I would be the first person a new Flight Attendant would travel with during their first flights of Initial Operating Experience (IOE). Eventually, I also served as a Flight Attendant Ground School Instructor…so I really got to experience being a Flight Attendant in many ways! Fatefully, when the opportunity to join the Talent Acquisition Team opened up I said to myself, “It’s my turn to be able to tell people – ‘Yes!’”
Is there a moment that influenced or helped shape your career?
I had a medical situation that happened on my third flight in my career and it’s one of the stories that I like to tell all the time: A woman came on board, and I noticed her rubbing her arm and could see she was distressed. During the inflight service I walked past her and this time she rubbed me on my left side and said “Ouch,” and then I understood that something was hurting her and that she did not speak English. In training, we learn that when someone touches the left arm, it can be an indication of a heart attack.
After letting the Captain know we might be having a situation, I got on the PA and asked if any medical personnel were on the plane. The passenger in 1A was a physician’s assistant and got right up to help me. Three off-duty Flight Attendants from another airline were also on board and recognized the situation – they all got up and assisted me. As we tried to identify this passenger’s language, other passengers were all leaning in to assist…not Russian, not Spanish, but Arabic! Each time the whole cabin was ready to help out.
After relaying the information to the Captain, I returned to the passenger and found she was so afraid that I decided to stay with her and hold her hand. The three off-duty Flight Attendants cleaned my entire plane while I stayed with the distressed passenger. As the medical personnel helped the passenger, she reached up, grabbed my face with both hands and kissed me! Despite there being only fifty strangers flying together, each time I asked for help, someone stepped up. Seeing people help each other and support each other while we were in the air is something that I’ll always carry with me.
What advice would you give to future aviators of color?
Part of why I do what I do is because of my children. I have three sons, and when you talk about people of color and the statistics surrounding having three boys of color, you can understand that I will do anything to keep them from becoming just that…a statistic. I made it my mission to expand their minds and open them up to new possibilities from a young age. Coming from a certain area or background, sometimes you can become what other people say you should become, and I didn’t want that for my children.
I wanted to show them how many opportunities there are out there! When you tell a child that they can go anywhere and do anything, it’s very difficult for them to believe it if they don’t have that experience. So as soon as I finished my IOE, I flew my two youngest boys out to Vegas for just twenty-four hours. But during that time, they got to experience places they had only seen on TV. And in that moment, I broke them free of anything that would have kept them from seeing themselves there.
When you’re on an aircraft and you’re looking down, you can see how busy the lines, boxes and barriers are below you. But when you look up, all you see is open sky. Open sky, open opportunities. So keep looking up!