Unique Youth Exchange Program for Airline Families Fosters Travel and Friendship

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One of the best things about working in the airline industry is the travel benefits.  GoJet employees are fortunate to have a wide range of affordable air fare options available to them, ranging from free domestic travel, to heavily discounted international travel.  As a result, GoJet employees tend to travel a lot, and their children often develop a love for travel at a young age.  When the children of GoJet employees grow into teenagers afflicted by wanderlust, they can spend up to two weeks in another country as part of a special program for airline families called the International Youth Exchange.

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The International Youth Exchange pairs up teens from airline families in different countries and gives them each the opportunity to spend two weeks with the family they are matched with.  After a participant spends two weeks with a host family, they return home, and the teen they were matched with stays with them for two weeks.

Participants are matched based on similarities in age, gender, and interests, as well as where they would like to visit.  Available locations include the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia.  After the teens are matched and dates are decided, the participants communicate with one another so that they can get to know each other, as well as decide what activities they would like to do during their summer exchange.

The International Youth Exchange is the brainchild of Camille Wheeler, a retired Northwest Airlines employee, and the mother of Aaron Wheeler, a regional airline Captain.  Camille is the mother of four, and international travel for a family of six can be expensive, even with pass benefits.  On the International Youth Exchange website, Camille explains that the program was born from her desire for her children to be able to affordably travel abroad, learn different languages, and experience new cultures.  Aaron says that his mom first got the idea for the program when his family took a trip to France when he was younger.  She was looking for different options to avoid hotel costs, and began making connections with other airline families abroad.

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Inaugural Youth Exchange Participant, Captain Aaron Wheeler

Camille soon realized that there were other airline families all over the world who were interested in affordable international travel opportunities for their children.  The program slowly began to take shape.  Teens could fly overseas using their parents’ pass privileges, and stay for free for two weeks with an airline host family.  Then the teens would switch, and a teen from host family could visit the other teen’s home during a separate two week visit.

In 1994, Camille connected with a Swiss Air gate agent in Geneva, Switzerland, and young Aaron became the first participant in the International Youth Exchange program.  He was matched with  a Swiss teen, Greg Cunnet, who was around the same age, and shared his interests. “When Greg came to visit, we just hung out, played baseball and biked,” Aaron recalls. When Aaron and Greg first met, Greg was only beginning to learn English. “Since he grew up traveling in airplanes, he would always read the safety instructions. In fact, the first time that we met, all he could say in English was, ‘Fast-ten-seat-belt.'”

After Greg stayed with his family, Aaron visited Geneva and stayed with Greg’s family. Aaron recalls mostly doing things that were familiar to him from back home.

“We went swimming, biked around town, and even played Monopoly.Even a young age, I was struck by how we had more in common than not, even though we lived so far apart.”

Aaron and Greg continued to visit each other for 7 years through the program, and are still friends.  “We still visit each other when we can,” Aaron said.   “I even went to his wedding about a year and a half ago.”

The International Youth Exchange has come a long way from its one inaugural participant in 1994.  It has since placed over 6,000 students in exchanges.  “In 1994,” jokes Aaron, “we just had a single fax machine running twenty-four-seven. We would get applications from Europe in the middle of the night!  But now, applicants can apply online.”

Aaron continues to help his mother with the program, who is now devoted to it full-time. “I actually matched a young boy from Minneapolis,” recalls Aaron, “and his mom happened to be my gate agent for a while. Every couple of months, we would bump into each other, and she would say how much her son enjoyed the experience.”  He recounts another story from years ago, in which a young person was matched up with a family in Seattle.  The father of the family flew for an airline in the area.  The program participant loved Seattle so much, that years later, he got in touch with the father and ended up working for that same airline.

Aaron’s experiences with the International Youth Exchange have stayed with him through the years, and he encourages other airline families to take advantage of the opportunities for travel and friendship that the program offers.

“I truly believe that there is no better way to experience another country than with someone your own age,” he says.

The International Youth Exchange is currently accepting applications for summer 2017 exchanges.  Put those travel benefits to work, and give your teenager a summer they’ll never forget.  Download the program flyer here or visit the International Youth Exchange website to learn more and apply online.

Couple Says “I Do”…Delta Style

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Photo credit: Sherri Barber

It’s not every day that we get to host a mid-air wedding.  But on January 31, we got to do just that.  Two of our passengers, Ken and Tracy Nilsen, got married in the air on a flight between Cincinnati and Washington D.C.  Avid travelers, the Cincinnati-based couple wanted their wedding to reflect their wanderlust and spirit of adventure, and a mid-air wedding fit the bill.

“We’ve done a lot of traveling,” Tracy explained, “It’s a big, important aspect of our relationship. We tossed around a lot of travel-related wedding ideas, like a destination wedding, or having our reception in a hanger. But the only thing that seemed right was for us to actually get married on a plane.”  “A mid-air wedding just seemed like us,” added Ken.

Ken is a loyal Delta frequent flyer, for whom travel is an “obsession.”  When he and Tracy started getting serious, Ken was reminded of a quote he’d heard once.

“If you want to know if you’re right for each other, go somewhere that’s hard to get in and out of. If you can survive that travel experience, then you should marry her in the airport on your way back.”

Ken took the quote’s advice and booked their first trip as a couple to Cape Town, South Africa.  The journey took them 30 hours, including a five hour layover in Amsterdam.  “We found that the flight experiences were just as much fun for us as the destination,” Ken remembers.  “That’s when we knew that we were right for each other.”

Since then, Ken and Tracy have done a lot of traveling, both domestically and internationally, including a trip to Paris, where Ken asked Tracy to marry him.  “The Paris trip had a bit of a Delta theme,” Ken elaborates. “I wanted to book a flight that would qualify me for Diamond Medallion status.  All that I needed was a trip to Reno, but I wanted to go somewhere special, given what I had planned.”  In addition to earning Diamond Medallion status, the Paris trip provided a perfect backdrop for Ken’s proposal to Tracy at a Parisian cafe with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the background.  “I was getting nervous that the only reason for the trip was Ken’s Diamond status,” Tracy laughs, “but it ended with another kind of diamond!”

Once the couple decided to get married on a plane, everything fell into place.  They booked a Delta flight from Cincinnati to Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington D.C. for themselves and a 13 friends and family members, including a friend who would officiate, as well as a photographer and a DJ.  After getting married in the air, the wedding party would enjoy an afternoon at the DCA Sky Club before heading back to Cincinnati.

With only 15 people in their wedding party, there would be up to 54 unknowing passengers on the flight, which was a Delta Connection flight operated by GoJet Airlines. “We had our wedding programs printed on barf bags, so that the other passengers would know what they were getting into,” says Tracy. “We also distributed little airplane cards offering everyone in the plane a complimentary drink on us.”

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Photo credit:  Sherri Barber

The wedding went off without a hitch, with the officiant performing the quick ceremony just after the seatbelt sign went off.  The moment that the officiant proclaimed Ken and Tracy man and wife, a flight attendant called the flight deck, and the pilots provided Ken and Tracy with the coordinates for exactly where they were when they were married.  Since you can’t have a wedding without music, the DJ set the tone by playing “Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra and “Roam” by the B-52s on his laptop.  Delta had stocked the plane with champagne, which was served as soon as the ceremony ended.

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Photo credit:  Sherri Barber

GoJet flight attendant Sian Montgomery was thrilled to be a part of Ken and Tracy’s big day. “It was a beautiful event to witness, and it was wonderful to help make our passengers’ dreams come true.  It was a magical day, and I was blessed to be part of it.  Another great flight attendant moment to stow away in my memory box”

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The happy couple and the GoJet team.  (Photo credit:  Sherri Barber)

When the couple arrived at DCA, they discovered that Delta had pulled out all the stops.  An archway and white carpet strewn with rose petals awaited them in the gate area, along with rows of cheering passengers and Delta employees.

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Photo credit:  Ken & Tracy Nilson

There was no mistaking the newlyweds as they made their way to the Sky Club!

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Photo credit:  Ken & Tracy Nilsen

When they arrived at the Sky Club, they discovered that Delta had arranged a beautiful lunch, including a gorgeous cake with a  keepsake aircraft model.

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After an afternoon at the Sky Club, Ken and Tracy returned to Cincinnati via another Delta Connection flight operated by GoJet.  But with as much as these two travel, we have a feeling that we’ll be seeing them again soon.  Here’s to a lifetime of new adventures!

Click here to read about Ken and Tracy’s big day on the Delta News Hub

Local High School Students Learn that GoJet has Endless Opportunities for Aspiring Aviators

Our Recruiting team is passionate about bringing new talent to GoJet, and has always relied on flight schools, university aviation programs, and technical schools to provide a consistent influx of skilled new hires.  However, one of Recruiting’s newest initiatives aims to expose a different group of young people to careers in aviation – high school students.

“Over the years, we’ve discovered that students’ career  trajectories are pretty set by the time they’re in their late teens to early twenties,” explains Recruiting Manager Doug Franciscus.  “We realized that we needed to plant the seed of aviation as a career path earlier than college.”  As part of this new initiative, GoJet recently hosted an Aerospace Engineering class from Liberty Academy in suburban St. Louis at our corporate headquarters.

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Aerospace Engineering students from Liberty Academy in suburban St. Louis tour our facilities

Students were given a behind the scenes look at airline operations and were exposed to a myriad of different aviation career opportunities right in their hometown.  During their visit, students stopped by our maintenance hangar for an up close look at our CRJ700 aircraft, and learned about all of the different departments that work together in our busy ops center.

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Liberty High School students get an up close look at our CRJ700 aircraft.

They also toured our state of the art cabin trainer, which allows our flight attendants to train for emergencies they may face in the air in a realistic, but safe setting.  The students even had the chance to observe a cabin smoke evacuation simulation, complete with fake smoke.

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The GoJet cabin trainer

The students had studied how airplanes operate during class, and came to the tour with plenty of questions, impressing pilot recruiter Captain Anthony Portalatin, who accompanied the students during their visit.  “They really researched our planes before they got here, and were asking the same aircraft component questions that I hear from pilots in ground school,” he remarked.  “That kind of proactive behavior is exactly what we’re looking for in future aviators.”

Wyatt and Brendan, two Liberty Academy seniors, both appreciated how the visit tied in to what they were learning in class, while also teaching them about other facets of aviation.

“Seeing the plane up close is a direct correlation to our course,” says Wyatt.  Currently a private pilot, Wyatt says that he wants to get into a professional pilot program, and eventually fly for an airline. For him, one of the highlights of the visit was the cabin smoke evacuation simulation. “That was both fun and a learning experience for me.”

After finishing high school, Brendan wants to either enter the Air Force Academy or the ROTC, and eventually become an Air Force pilot.  “I didn’t know how much effort really went into the logistics of running an airline,” he confesses. “In class, we’ve been focusing mainly on what goes into aircraft operations. It prepared me for seeing the plane and instruments up close, but seeing how the airline operates was very eye-opening to me.”

After the visit, Captain Portalatin said that he was struck by the impact that something as simple as a school field trip could have on a student’s future.  “Seeing a student’s eyes light up from such a hands-on experience is really meaningful. Especially when they realize that it could be a possible career path.”

We hope to see those students from Liberty Academy again – in our crew loungers, in our maintenance hangar, and at our corporate headquarters.  We have hundreds of different career opportunities waiting for them.

Our Favorite Blog Posts of 2016 Revisited

With the year winding down, we thought that it would be the perfect time to put together a compilation of some of our favorite blog posts of 2016.  Here’s a sample of what our employees have been up to this year.

Piano Playing Pilot Delights Passengers at Chicago O’Hare

Captain Billy Hock isn’t just a talented pilot.  He’s also a musician and songwriter who spends layovers at O’hare playing the piano for passengers.

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GoJet Captain Billy Hock, meeting a fan after playing the piano at Chicago O’Hare

Pilot Recruiter James Douvier Explains What it Takes to Be a GoJet Pilot

In one of our most viewed posts of the year, pilot recruiter Captain James Douvier explains that there’s more to being a GoJet pilot than just being a great aviator.  James is looking for pilots who are going to come to GoJet and make a difference.

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Pilot Recruiter Captain James Douvier

Maintenance Control: The Unseen Face of Tech Ops

The majority of our passengers have most likely never heard the term “Maintenance Control.”  However, the safety and timeliness of our flights depends on this important group of GoJet employees.  This department is critical to keeping our airplanes safe, our flights on schedule, and our passengers happy.

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Maintenance Controller Steven Perez

Summer Interns Contribute to the Operation in Big Ways

During the summer of 2016, three talented young interns contributed to the operation in big ways.  Aviation students Morgan Hunlen, Jade Lubinski, and Alex Dupre all took full advantage of the opportunity to move their studies beyond the classroom, and had an abundance of new knowledge when they returned to school in the fall.

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Our summer interns getting a rare, behind-the-scenes tour of the control tower at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

GoJet Flight Attendant Wins First Runner Up in the Miss North Carolina Pageant

Our employees do some truly astounding things in their free time.  Take GoJet flight attendant Juanette Roache – when she’s not providing stellar customer service at 37,000 feet, she regularly volunteers at her local soup kitchen and homeless shelter, as well as mentors children through the Boys and Girls Club.  Her community service led to an opportunity this spring to compete in the 20160 Mrs. North Carolina pageant, where she was named the first runner up and received the People’s Choice Award.

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GoJet Flight Attendant Juannette Roache

We have no doubt that our employees will continue to impress us next year.  We can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.  Happy New Year!

Pilot Recruiter James Douvier Explains What it Takes to be a GoJet Pilot

When Pilot Recruiter Captain James Douvier meets with pilot applicants, he’s looking for more than just technical know-how.  He’s looking for pilots with positive personalities who are going to come to GoJet and make a difference.

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Pilot Recruiter Captain James Douvier

Being a great aviator is certainly a requirement to become a GoJet pilot, but there’s more to it than that.  Crews spend a lot of time together, so having an outgoing and positive attitude is important.  James says that during the interview process, he asks himself, “Is this someone that I would want to fly a four-day trip with?”

When James interviews pilots, he’s also looking at what they’ve accomplished outside of the cockpit.  “We’re looking for pilots who are going to do more than just fly their shift, make their money, and go home,” James explains.  “We want to hire people who are going to be involved and engaged in the airline.  If you’ve been involved in your school, community, or at your previous airline, it’s a pretty good indication that you’re going to make a positive impact at GoJet.”

However, the interview process is also about pilot candidates making sure that GoJet is the right fit for them.  That’s why James sets aside a portion of each interview to answer any questions that applicants may have.  One of the most common things that pilot applicants want to know is what their life will be like when they become a GoJet pilot.

In addition to emphasizing the quality of life benefits that GoJet offers, including high pay, minimal reserve time, and fast Captain upgrades, James also tells candidates about GoJet’s unique, family-like culture.  For example, unlike “slam-clickers,” or pilots who stay in their hotel rooms after they finish a day of flying, GoJet crews frequently go out to dinner together or rent a car and sightsee during overnight trips.  “I have friends at other airlines, and the level of camaraderie that you see at GoJet is just different,” he remarks.  “All of our crews are interactive teams who just genuinely enjoy each other’s company.”

When asked if he had any advice for new GoJet pilots, James encouraged them to take advantage of every opportunity to get involved with the company, as it will benefit their careers down the road.  “Many of our pilots aspire to fly for mainline carriers one day, and all airlines, including mainlines, want to hire pilots who have made the effort to progress professionally as much as they can,” he stressed.  “Do as much as you can while you have the opportunity, and it will pay off for you later.”

Professional development opportunities that James suggests include:

  • Becoming a Check Airman
  • Getting involved in the union
  • Offering to be a committee chair, such as for hotels
  • Helping out with recruiting
  • Taking advantage of the Pilot Mentor Program – in addition to earning $5,000 for every pilot you mentor, you’re paying it forward by passing on your wisdom and experience to new pilots

Being a pilot recruiter means that James doesn’t get to fly the line as much as he’d like, but he loves what he does.  “I get to help make people’s dreams come true. Seeing someone’s face light up when they are offered a job as a GoJet First Officer, then seeing that person become a Captain, and then watching them move on to mainline, that’s just really special.”

There’s never been a better time to become a GoJet pilot.  Click here to get started.

Employee Appreciation Week Recap

Employee Appreciation Week is one of our favorite weeks of the year!  This week-long event, packed with food, games, and prizes, is our way of saying thank you to our employees for all of their hard work  This year’s festivities wrapped up last Friday, and everyone is still talking about all of the fun they had.

One of the best things about Employee Appreciation Week is the food!  In Chicago, Base Manager Tracy Ryan kept the crew room stocked with candy and other goodies throughout the week.  Her queso dip with chips and salsa was a huge hit!  Tracy also delivered Subway sandwiches planeside to crews with fast turns.

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The Raleigh-Durham base had a similar agenda, offering a smorgasbord of treats each day. All kinds of candy bars were available on Monday, while Tuesday featured “grab and go” breakfasts for the crew members.  Throughout the week, crews also feasted on nachos, cupcakes and pizza.

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At the St. Louis base, Base Manager Nikki Lutz worked hard keeping the crews fed all week, and even held a barbecue right on the ramp!

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In addition to the food and festivities, each crew base gave away a FitBit!

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  Flight Attendant Alyce Atkinson won the FitBit given away at our ORD crew base.

At the St. Louis headquarters on Tuesday, corporate leaders threw a “come as you are” breakfast (which was pajamas for many) for all employees, complete with a caricature booth and balloon artist.  The leadership team manned griddles and hotplates, and served up an impressive spread that included sausage, eggs, pancakes, and even a smoothie bar.  And of course, President Rick Leach and GoJet COO Terry Basham held their annual competition to see whose pancakes were the most popular  (we ran out of both, so we’re called it a tie!).

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Other events throughout the week included the very popular “Take Your Dog To Work Day,” a gourmet cupcake truck, and a friendly game of Family Feud that pitted GoJet employees against employees of our sister carrier, Trans States Airlines.

One of the biggest events of the week was the annual washers tournament.  This year was the tournament’s biggest year yet, with 35 teams participating.  Our Maintenance department has established a washers dynasty over the years, and many teams from other departments were eager to de-throne them. However, Maintenance remained dominant again this year, and we again had a Maintenance vs. Maintenance championship game!

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Maintenance remained dominant later in the week, winning the annual tug-of-war showdown between the Maintenance hangar and corporate office employees.

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The Maintenance Hangar defeats the corporate office employees in tug-of-war….again!

On Friday, employees enjoyed a barbecue,

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a mini-classic car show,

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and an afternoon of “knockerball.”

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One thing’s for certain – we’re already looking forward to next year!

Piano Playing GoJet Pilot Delights Passengers at Chicago O’Hare

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GoJet Captain Billy Hock, meeting a fan after playing the piano at Chicago O’Hare

The next time you find yourself at Chicago O’Hare, make sure to wander past Gate C17. If you’re lucky, you just might catch GoJet Captain Billy Hock serenading passengers with his piano playing skills.  Captain Hock is a regular feature at C17, where he often unwinds between flights by performing on the piano.

Captain Hock is a lifelong music enthusiast and has been playing the piano since he was a child.  While he envisions a lifelong aviation career for himself, he always makes time for his first love – music.  “I always plan on flying planes professionally, but music is my first passion,” he explains.

A piano playing pilot isn’t something that you see every day, and passengers have been known to share photos and videos of his playing via social media.  Passengers have also reached out to him directly to tell him how much they enjoyed and appreciated his playing.  One post to his Facebook wall says:

Thank you for the Chopin, it was heavenly and made my delay in ORD worth it. Would have loved to dance to it if I was alone. Keep sharing the beauty you see and feel. 

When he’s not flying airplanes or entertaining passengers on the piano, Captain Hock composes and performs his own original piano compositions, which are available on iTunes.  And his musical talents don’t stop at the piano – he also plays saxophone and guitar!

We’re proud that the multi-talented Captain Hock is part of the GoJet family.  We love it when our employees use their creativity to make unique connections with the world around them!