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From the team members who worked behind-the-scenes to the crew members operating the flight, ExpressJet is proud to help make the Bert’s Big Adventure trip a lifetime memory for each child and their family. Check out what Alex and a few of our 2015 volunteers had to say about their experience:

Robin Hollums, specialist – Market Planning & Development
I work on the paperwork side of the BBA trip, and even though my part is a very small piece of the overall effort, I love to support the cause. It is such a pleasure to see the children and the families with such joy and smiles on their faces before and after the trip. I also enjoy the preparation for BBA each year because it reminds me of the “heart” of ExpressJet and the ExpressJet people. They care and it shows every day, but on BBA trips the “heart” of ExpressJet becomes visible to others.

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Gail Morgan, Maintenance admin – TYS
It was a pleasure for Knoxville (TYS) maintenance hangar to be a part of Bert’s Big Adventure by writing hand-written notes to the Adventurers. This is such an important event that ExpressJet takes part in each year. TYS has always been very supportive in our community and here at the hangar to all children. We recognize that children are our future and teaching and helping them learn plays such an important role. The employees here truly enjoyed writing a brief note to help start their big adventure to Disney World.

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Meghan Pogue, specialist – Benefits
While I’ve attended the send-off party a few times, this was my first year as a Family Helper. The entire experience is magical and life-affirming. We learned some details about our child a few weeks in advance, and got to work right away planning a few surprises of our own for him. On the day of the departure flight, all of the kids were buzzing with energy, and had these huge smiles on their faces. When it was our turn to walk the red carpet, I challenged my child to high-five “every single person” lining the carpet. He took that challenge seriously! His mom just kept thanking all of us over and over and you could tell she almost didn’t believe that they were in the middle of this experience.

Monday (the return flight) was even better. You would think that everyone would be sad to see the trip come to an end, but it was again all smiles and excitement. The energy at the dance party was amazing. To see these children, who deal with so much on a day-to-day basis, be happy and carefree was just a fantastic experience. I would recommend volunteering, in whatever capacity you can, for Bert’s Big Adventure. Not only are we providing a great memory for these children and their families, we’re having our hearts filled as well.

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Vanessa Anderson, flight attendant – ORD
I had the privilege of being selected as a flight attendant for the departure flight for BBA 2015. I was so very excited from the moment that I was chosen to be part of this great adventure. One of my favorite moments was seeing the mass support at the A-Tech hangar in Atlanta from ExpressJet employees. It warmed my heart! Those who work on the event are so well organized down to the smallest detail. I also loved decorating the aircraft with my fellow crew members in preparation for the kids’ arrival.

It was amazing seeing the excitement of each child as we prepared for takeoff. Lily was bubbling with anticipation! Zailey and Lali were fast friends, and Gabriel was so happy that his brothers were there with him. We pretended that we were on a great big roller coaster at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and all the families threw their hands up in the air. The crew made each and every child, parent, and BBA staff member feel safe and comfortable during the flight, while getting them excited about their adventure. Dean Murfield, Heather Ragle, and I worked so efficiently it was as if we had worked together every single day. After we landed, it was lovely watching First Officer Gary Shipps and Captain Jennifer Shamsy help every single child down the steps of the aircraft to their awaiting buses. They paid attention to their safety without the passengers even knowing it. Thank you for the adventure, ExpressJet and BBA!

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Heather Ragle, flight attendant – ATL
My crew and I were all hand-picked by BBA from applications we submitted to be part of this special day. It’s an amazing honor to watch these beautiful kids light up at taking their first flight, first limo ride, and the VIP treatment they get. It truly is an adventure that will provide these families memories of a lifetime. When we went back to pick them up on Monday I couldn’t wait to hear what they’d done. They were happy, tired and it was obvious that some of the kids and their parents had made new best friends. I spent time speaking to each of the families. The parents were all thrilled to see their kids smiling and enjoying life. It was a well needed break from reality and five glorious days of bonding for these families. The whole crew and I felt a connection with these kids and the organization, so we have decided to make Peachtree Road Race a fundraiser for BBA. Last year BBA received $83,000 in donations. They are able to do so much for these kids with that, what if they had $100,000? Once we get the fundraising page up we’ll be inviting everyone that is running the race at ExpressJet to participate. It’s truly a worthy cause. Until then, hug a loved one… life’s a gift! Go find your own adventure…

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Alex Marren, COO
Thank you to every ExpressJet team member who worked to make this flight happen. It’s amazing to see how many crew members applied to operate the trip, the hundreds of hand-written notes our people sent in from around the country, and the excitement of our Family Helpers, employees and families at the Bon Voyage and Welcome Home events. I’m very proud of how dedicated our people are to the Bert’s Big Adventure cause.

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Thank you to everyone who supported Bert’s Big Adventure 2015!

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Family Helper with a hand-made sign for her special kids
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Adventurers deplaning as they’re welcomed by ExpressJet employees

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Family Helpers greeting their special kids after their trip

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Family Helpers helping their special child discover goodies in her bin at the Welcome Back event

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ExpressJet crew members with a BBA family

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BBA founder Bert Weiss with two adventurers

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Adventurer hugging Spiderman at the Welcome Back event

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Family Helpers and Bert dancing with the Adventurers at the Welcome Back event

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Family Helpers escorting their families with their luggage

In honor of Black History Month, ExpressJet recognizes the many achievements in aviation by African Americans and celebrates our own contribution to their legacy within the industry.

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On Feb. 12, 2009, ExpressJet (then ASA) made history when Captain Rachelle Jones, First Officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers (pictured) flew the first commercial flight operated by an all-female African American crew. A round-trip from Atlanta to Nashville, the flight happened by pure chance when a first officer became ill and First Officer Grant was called to fill in.

The historic nature of the flight was made possible by the brave men and women who broke through the walls of discrimination and took the aviation industry to new heights. In celebration of Black History Month, we remember these courageous individuals and their extraordinary contributions which paved the way for countless other aviation professionals.

1912: Emory Conrad Malick becomes the first African American pilot

1921: Bessie Coleman becomes the first African American female pilot

1931: The Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical School provides instruction in aircraft mechanics to its first African American class

1938: Cornelius Coffey becomes the first African American to establish an aeronautical school

1940: C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, often called the “Father of Black Aviation,” is hired as the chief flight instructor for the WWII Tuskegee Airmen at the Tuskegee Institute

1956: Perry Young becomes the first African American commercial airline pilot, hired by regional carrier New York Airways

1958: Ruth Carol Taylor becomes the first African American flight attendant, hired by Mohawk Airlines

1963: By way of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Marlon Green becomes the first African American pilot hired by a major commercial airline, Continental Airlines

1978: Jill E. Brown Hiltz becomes the first African American female pilot hired by a major commercial airline

2009: The first all-female African American crew to operate a commercial flight

ExpressJet is dedicated to fostering a work environment that respects, celebrates, and promotes diversity, and we are incredibly proud to have added to the long history of African American success in aviation.

We’re committed to continuing our partnership with groups who share these values, such as the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP). OBAP’s mission is to enhance, advance and promote educational opportunities in aviation and aerospace. Their goals are to motivate youth in becoming educationally prepared for careers and life, and increasing minority participation and representation in aviation and aerospace through exposure, training, mentoring and scholarships. ExpressJet is proud to support OBAP and other groups who share a passion for aviation and are dedicated to attracting the best talent and improving the industry.

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ExpressJet has partnered with Atlanta-based charity Bert’s Big Adventure since it started 13 years ago. BBA takes children with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families on an all-expenses-paid, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney World, and providing the flight is a special honor to our ExpressJet team members.

Our crews volunteer to operate the flight; team members serve as Family Helpers where they treat their special family like VIPs; hundreds of ExpressJet people sent in hand-written notes to the Adventurers from our maintenance and crew bases across the country; and dozens of employees and their families gathered in the chilly hangar for the annual Bon Voyage event today.

For many of the BBA families, this is their first flight, first trip to Disney or even their first family vacation, and ExpressJet people are proud to make it extra special for these deserving kids. Check out some photos from today’s Bon Voyage event:

02-19 BBA Outgoing-113BBA Crew and Disney characters welcome an Adventurer onto the plane

IMG_1255ExpressJet COO Alex Marren (second from right) with Trey, Cynthia and Sharon – three of the many ExpressJet team members who help make BBA happen

02-19 BBA Outgoing-552015 BBA Flight Attendant Vanessa greets an Adventurer

02-19 BBA Outgoing-292Disney characters join the celebration

02-19 BBA Outgoing-66Captain Jeff helps an Adventurer onto the plane

02-19 BBA Outgoing-280ExpressJet crew members with Bert and Stacey – the founders of Bert’s Big Adventure

02-19 BBA Outgoing-176ExpressJet crew members and Family Helpers with an Adventurer

IMG_1231Family Helpers waiting for their special family

IMG_1245ExpressJet team members and their families cheer on the Adventurers

IMG_1218Family Helpers meet their special Adventurer

02-19 BBA Outgoing-22ExpressJet team members with Disney characters

IMG_1225Family Helpers with their special Adventurer

IMG_1246ExpressJet family cheering on the Adventurers

IMG_1219Family Helpers wait for their special family

02-19 BBA Outgoing-1842015 BBA First Officer Dean poses with an Adventurer

02-19 BBA Outgoing-312015 BBA Flight Attendant Vanessa talks with an Adventurer

IMG_1221Family Helpers meet their special Adventurer

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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

In the newly released U.S. Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report, December was ExpressJet’s best month in 2014 where we performed better than all regional carriers and many major airlines in our key metrics.

“ExpressJet will continue to focus on the fundamentals that make an airline great: customer service, reliability and operational excellence,” said ExpressJet Chief Operating Officer Alex Marren. “Our December on-time arrival and passenger satisfaction scores highlight the improvements we’ve made in those areas to ensure ExpressJet is the best, most reliable regional airline for our customers and our mainline partners.”

In the report, ExpressJet placed the best of any regional carrier for the quarter and among the top of all airlines in on-time arrivals. Despite December being one of the busiest months to travel, we also received the lowest customer complaint ratio of any carrier. At ExpressJet, we take immense pride in the level of trust and dependability our customers place in our team.

“I want to say thank you to all our ExpressJet team members for your hard work, and congratulations on a job well done,” said Alex.

2014 was a year of tremendous improvements for ExpressJet and we look forward to hearing more great news of our customer service and consistency.

You can read the full DOT report on December 2014 here.

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