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Captain Theresa Claiborne: A pioneer in the sky

June 11, 2024

After 34 exceptional years and over 23,000 flight hours, EWR Boeing 787 Captain Theresa Claiborne is officially retired from flying with United. She’s often described as a pioneer, trailblazer and mentor to so many in the aviation industry and beyond.

Some of her accomplishments, dating back to her military flying days, include being the first Black woman pilot in the Air Force, the first Black woman air commander and the first Black woman instructor pilot for the KC-135 aircraft. Team EWR and BEACON, United's Black Business Resource Group, commemorated her final trip with pre-and post-flight celebrations.

Captain Claiborne’s final flights with United were between EWR and LIS (Lisbon, Portugal). Prior to the outbound flight on Monday, May 20, there was a pre-flight gate event to honor her outstanding career, impact and legacy that will live in perpetuity.

Brett Hart, Airport Operations EWR SVP and BEACON Executive Sponsor Mike Hanna, Global Learning, People & Community Impact VP Helon Hammond, Alliances Managing Director Mika Tupy, Captain Claiborne’s close family (most notably her mother), her friends and many of her colleagues came out to show love and support.

“I know that there’s nothing that’s more important to you than the future of aviation and the future of those who will be flying and making opportunities for people,” Brett said to Captain Claiborne at the gate event.

For the return flight to EWR on Thursday, May 23, she was met with a water cannon salute—a moment in her career she cherished. There was also a celebration event in EWR’s Liberty Conference room where more friends and colleagues came out to greet her.

In addition, she received a Proclamation and Resolution from the City of Newark, her retirement plaque from EWR Flight Ops, a window with a special message from EWR Tech Ops and heartfelt gifts from her flight crew, Catering and others.

Throughout her career at United, she’s flown some of the airline’s largest aircraft—including her favorite Boeing 747, which she affectionately dubs the “Queen of The Skies.” In addition to EWR, she spent time based out of SFO and IAD, with one of her most memorable experiences being flying with all Black pilots from EWR to JNB (Johannesburg).

“I’m here to inspire anyone who previously did not have the door open for them,” said Captain Claiborne. “That’s my legacy.”

Watch the video above showcasing Theresa’s final flight.