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 the amazing story of a real CommuteAir Aviation Family working together: Clarence Grisham, Patricia Grisham, and Michael Gurley! The “G Fam” are all members of the CommuteAir team – Clarence is a Captain, Patricia is a First Officer (who is a retired United Airlines Flight Attendant) and Michael is a Tech Ops Apprentice! We had a chance to sit down with all three to hear some of their aviation story…
How did the family get involved with aviation?
Clarence: It started back when I was 14 years old. I lived in Fort Lauderdale, FL and we used to always take family trips from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta. Getting on the airplane and looking up at the cockpit really intrigued me, and I realized that was something I might want to do as a career when I grew up. I think I took my first Discovery flight around that age when I expressed to my parents that flying was what I wanted to do, but didn’t get started flying seriously until I had graduated from college and was in the Marine Corps where I was a C130 pilot for ten years and did two tours in Iraq. After finishing my service, I got into commercial aviation.
Patricia: Before I became a Pilot, I was a United Airlines Flight Attendant for over twenty years! I was actually sitting in the CommuteAir Houston training center when I got my last paycheck from United as a retired FA. My transition to the flight deck was kind of bittersweet, but it’s cool staying in the same network. The last four-five years of my career as a Flight Attendant actually reignited my interest to be seated up front and I was training aggressively to complete all of my ratings when COVID hit. When UA offered us the early out while I was instructing, I got my CFI, my double-I, and my multi-engine license to instruct…I was just finishing up my multi-engine rating when Clarence and I met at an OBAP convention! It took me about two years to get all my ratings and then I was ready for my first regional airline…CommuteAir!
Michael: My mom being a Flight Attendant for 22 years had an impact on me and was a lot of what I experienced growing up. Her career created an avenue for me to be able to travel and gave me a lot of insight that eventually made me want to make aviation my career. It’s a little bit shorter and simpler but I was always intrigued by just being in the air and the ability to travel at a young age and wondering how a plane worked the way that it worked. In High School I was interested in engineering and robotics, I get the engineering side from my dad and always had my hands on things!
What’s it like having an aviation family?
Patricia: I like to think of it as having the best of both worlds: My son is keeping me safe in the air from the maintenance angle because he works on the aircraft, and as an active Captain, my husband is helping me develop the roots I need to become an exceptional Captain myself! It takes a team to have a safe and productive flight, and when I think about us as a team, and my son, his opportunity with CommuteAir is really limitless: He’s starting as an A&P Mechanic, but I still hold my certified Flight Instructor license for when he is ready to transition to become a pilot! It’s rewarding to be able to grow our careers together.
Michael: Just like my mom said – I think of it in the standpoint of trying to keep both of them safe when I’m learning how to maintain the plane and sharing that knowledge. But also, seeing them fly from my professional point of view and watching them do the great things that they’ve been able to accomplish. It’s shown me that there really is no limit to how far you can go, and that’s really a big thing for me.
Clarence: It’s pretty cool to be able to work (fly) with your wife! I get asked by some of my colleagues that I fly with because lots of people are intrigued that we are able to fly together. I would say roughly 80% of Patricia’s flights at CommuteAir have been with me and I really look forward to going to work together with my wife, even more so when we get the chance to fly together. So it’s pretty cool – Except that Patricia is the popular one of us so now when I go places or post on Facebook people say, “I know you – You’re Patricia’s husband!”
What’s your experience as a black aviation professional? What advice would you give to the future generation of aviators?
Clarence: My aviation experience goes back to 1998 – I have worked extensively in the industry to make aviation more diversified; I was once the Vice President of OBAP and have seen many of the problems facing the industry firsthand, and it is challenging because it is still a battle. I once heard the comment, “Another empty kitchen” after a female pilot made an announcement over the radio, which is part of the mentality that we’ve been trying to get away from. That being said, the industry is becoming more diversified and I’m glad to see it – We’ve made a lot of strides and continue to do so, but the mission is far from complete! It shows all the hard work that we’ve put in is starting to see some of the rewards.
Aviation is a tough industry and it’s not for everybody, which isn’t to discourage anyone, but you need to be prepared to get stronger for what you’re going to go through and encounter. You’ve got to be able to accept the fact that you won’t always do well or you could have done it better!
Patricia: My experience (obviously) is totally different and is probably common to the prejudice faced by many black females who enter into a white, male-dominated field. I recall while I was still on the line at UA as a Flight Attendant, some of the pilots would see me studying flight books and ask if I, “even had a college degree.” Which I knew wasn’t required to be a commercial pilot so I would reply, “It’s funny you asked because I actually don’t need the undergraduate or the master’s degree that I currently have, to fly!” It can be discouraging at times, but we are unapologetic in regard to changing the face of what the flight deck should look like. We may look or sound different from one another, but all pilots go through the same training! I recommend getting involved like I did with OBAP and Sisters of the Skies when joining the industry – See others that look like yourself in that uniform!
Michael: In my personal experience, I can’t say that I’ve experienced direct discrimination, but there are definitely situations where those prejudices can show up – especially when I talk about having parents that are also pilots. People might assume you didn’t earn the right to be there or are too “upper-class” to be able to turn a wrench or get dirty. Knowing that those prejudices and judgements still exist can influence how you approach other people, but overall my experience has been great. As an apprentice, the other mechanics have literally taken me under their wing and are willing to teach and show me anything (whether I asked them 10 times or don’t ask it all) they’re always willing to help. If you’re able to put your mind to it and do it, you’ll be able to succeed!