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.
Meet First Officer, HaeBom Lee! HaeBom’s story begins back in Seoul, South Korea before immigrating to the United States to become a pilot. As a rabid aviation enthusiast, HaeBom is active within the CommuteAir Community as a member of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion council, ALPA, and regularly volunteers for special events. Read on to learn some of HaeBom’s aviation story…
How did you first become interested in aviation?
Everything kind of started because of my dad. He wasn’t a pilot but he worked with Lufthansa at the time and thanks to his flight benefits I was able to travel to France to visit my Aunt & Uncle. I so vividly remember that specific trip we took out of all the traveling that we did to visit our relatives. I was only six or seven years old, and I was able to visit the flight deck on the the 747-400 we were riding on. At the time, I had no idea what aircraft we were on, only that it was a double Decker. I was sitting in my seat and then one of the cabin crew walked up to me. Took me by my hand and then just kind of walked to the very front and then casually knocked on the door. Suddenly I was just seeing the sky and I didn’t even have the concept of altitude or anything but that moment is something that I can clearly go back to and it’s just kind of like stuck with me.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a commercial pilot.
After immigrating to the US from South Korea I went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach Florida to start my aviation journey. I knew that aviation would be a challenging path, but ERAU is a school for more than just pilots and it was a place that I could really learn in terms of my development as I didn’t speak much of the language when I first came to the states.
Communication was one of my biggest challenges in becoming a pilot, and something that is of critical importance for pilots in general. I lived my life for the first 20 years speaking in one language, and I was really fortunate to be surrounded by great people during my training who were not only eager to teach, but also eager to listen. In instances where I would have a miscommunication, I realized that the parties involved were listening to react instead of listening to understand. A lot of the times in the flight deck, people end up having a disagreement when they are essentially on the same page. These lessons definitely stayed with me when I left my instructor role at ERAU and became a First Officer at CommuteAir!
Is there a particular moment that helped shape your career?
Once I was accepted at CommuteAir I knew the onboarding process would be quite busy. I was planning on giving myself at least 2 weeks before joining…But I still had two students who were very close to the end of their course. When it comes to that student/instructor relationship, oftentimes the instructors are eager to move on to the next chapter of their life and the students are not their priority. It’s understandable even from the student’s perspective, but I remember when I was a student that I hated having to repeat training because the instructor had changed. Because that meant I had to spend more time and effort to accomplish the same goal. I decided to spend those final two weeks with those two students and was able to see them finish the course. It was rewarding to see them both earn their commercial rating.
What’s your DEI experience been like in aviation?
One of our first group activites with the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council at CommuteAir was sharing our not-so-nice experiences in the industry and whether or not we had been discriminated against. My answer was no because I never took any of my interactions that way. Growing up in a different country where everything in Korea was obviously Korean, and seeing how different things are in the US made me think, “If every single Korean in Korea is different, think about how different everyone can be in the states.” There’s so much diversity in individuality. Diversity is so much more than skin color and includes differences in age or experience, etc. Veteran Captains versus newly hired First Officers is a great example. People have different experiences, and there is something we can always learn from each other.
I really wanted to make sure that I would be hired not because of my color or my necessity, but because of my abilities. I want to help break down these barriers because diversity is so much more than ethnicity.
What advice would you pass on to future aviators?
The first thing is to cherish everyone who you come across during your journey. You will get to interact with thousands of people who you meet for the first time and that will also be the last. If you get a chance, build memories and share experiences. I like to take a selfie with each flight crew that I work with, and I’ve got quite a collection now (see below)!
Don’t become complacent. There will be moments of, “Oh I’ve done this 1000 times,” and the comfort of repetition becomes complacency. When I was at ERAU, the Chief Pilot there would start every class by asking, “What’s the most important thing in life?”. The answer he was looking for was, “Integrity.” He was alluding to the old adage of, “Do the right thing even when no one is looking” which is really important when it comes to aviation.
Lastly, Keep an open mind when communicating, listen to understand – not to react! There may be times you become reactionary, but taking a step back and listening first will change the dynamics positively very quickly!