Joni Belknap keeps United’s operations in San Francisco pumping
Author Pete Rapalus
United employees at San Francisco International Airport, our gateway to the Pacific, host a number of community-oriented events and fundraising drives, and at the center of all of them is the highly persuasive heart of the hub, organizer and planner extraordinaire Joni Belknap.
“Joni is amazing,” says Hub vice president Mike Hanna. “She makes things happen. Nothing ever falls through the cracks, and she can navigate through anything. I’m convinced she could easily be the planner for anything up to and including a presidential inauguration, and we’re fortunate that she’s here at United and here at SFO.”
A 24-year United veteran, Belknap is currently a supervisor in Airport Operations, and she transcends that title. She wears many hats at the bustling airport, handling recognition across all work groups, overseeing performance management and running events all the way from conception to cleanup. Those events range from route launches to the annual Fantasy Flights for ill and disadvantaged children to major fundraising drives for March of Dimes—and she coordinates her co-workers’ volunteer efforts at local food banks.
Belknap also stages events that highlight the diversity of the United staff, usually in public areas where customers are welcome to watch and take part. At a recent Asian-American and Pacific Islander Celebration held at one of the gates, she says, “It was great to see passengers stop and ask what we were doing, pull out their cameras and have fun for a while watching our employees celebrate their cultures. It’s a great way to promote United—that we’re a community as well as an airline.”
Belknap takes little credit for the success of these ventures, and others say that’s to be expected of someone who is so naturally skilled at making others contribute to these team efforts. But every team needs a quarterback, even a modest one.
“Joni can take any concept and execute it in an organized, lovely way,” says frequent collaborator Maureen McLellan, of Corporate and Community Affairs. “She is able to rally co-workers around any cause, and she does it while keeping a positive, kind attitude.”
Paul Carlson, senior maintenance manager at SFO, agrees. “She has a knack for getting everyone involved about volunteering, so it doesn’t seem like more work or an imposition on them,” he says. “What people notice is that she’s right there in the trenches the whole time with them. These events aren’t easy to run; she just makes it look that way sometimes.”
Belknap started as a part-time customer service agent at SFO in 1991 and has since worked in many departments and capacities. She knows virtually everyone on the staff by name, as well as many of those frequent flyers who call SFO their home base. Thanks to the depth and breadth of her knowledge, she often serves as a sort of ombudsperson for the hub, fielding requests and random inquiries from every angle.
“For just about anything incoming you can imagine, she’s the most reliable catcher’s mitt,” Hanna says. “She knows when to make decisions and when to get other people involved or to ask for help. You cannot overestimate the value of her contributions to SFO.”
Belknap is also an avid golfer and walker, and she loves all outdoor activities. She has recently become more involved with volunteer work on behalf of Alzheimer’s patients, as her mother is battling the disease. She is also the mother of two grown daughters who have inherited her love of travel—which is fitting, as it was her desire, as a young mother, for part-time work and flexibility that led her to seek a career at United in the first place.