The UPS Legacy: A father and son share their love for aviation and UPS


Photo by: Melody Hood

The history of UPS air service stretches back to 1929, when the first packages moved by commercial passenger flights. That service lasted barely two years before succumbing to the weight of the Great Depression. It was not until 25 years later, in 1953, that United Parcel Service was able to continue parcel delivery through air routes, and its two-day, coast-to-coast service was designated Blue Label Air.

Captain John James and his son Johnmark. Photo by UPS.

The modern history of UPS Airlines, however, begins in the 1980s. With increasing public demand for quicker service, UPS entered the overnight air delivery business. By 1985, UPS Next Day Air service was available in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.  In 1988, UPS won approval from the FAA to operate its own aircraft, launching UPS Airlines. It was the fastest startup in FAA history. Since then, the airline has continued to grow, with new aircraft and destinations around the world, and has created a tightly knit culture within its ranks, offering excellent benefits to employees and their families.

Captain John James, and his son, Johnmark, are two pilots who have begun a family legacy with UPS. Captain James, a commercial passenger pilot in the early days of his career, has spent the last 28 years as a pilot for UPS, a place that is, in his words, “ … the best company anyone could work for.” Recently, his son, Johnmark, has followed in his footsteps, currently building his own aviation career with an internship with the company. Johnmark is an A300 fleet intern, working in a group that maintains training standards within the fleet.

As a pilot for UPS, there are several qualifications that must first be met, with a large hurdle being the minimum of 1500 flight hours before one is even eligible for consideration. Other basic requirements are:

  • Hold a current unrestricted ATP certificate with an Airplane category multi-engine class rating and an English proficiency endorsement
  • Hold a current FAA First Class Medical Certificate
  • Hold a FCC Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit
  • Hold a valid passport
  • Have authorization to work in the United States
  • Although the 1000 hours PIC time is not required, it is strongly preferred.  We look for quality leadership in the cockpit and having the preferred PIC time assures us the applicant has what it takes to make the needed decisions on the flight deck. 

Although it is not required to have a college degree, it is a preferred qualification and an applicant stands a much higher chance of being hired if he/she has a Bachelor’s degree (or higher) in any field. Background checks are performed on every applicant, and in the words of Captain James, “Being an upstanding citizen with a great attitude is one of the best qualities in a candidate for hire.”

Captain John James and his son Johnmark.  Photo by UPS.

In 1990, when Captain James was looking for a new company for which to fly, many airlines, including UPS, were in a hiring boom. When offered a position between two different companies, Captain James chose to fly for UPS, a decision that has paid off in more ways than one. He describes his job lovingly, recounting fun memories over the years. “UPS is extremely diverse, and it’s so awesome to work for a company that encourages that. There are pilots with backgrounds in all sorts of flying, including freight, passenger flights, and even pilots who have flown the President of the United States on Air Force One. UPS is a unique, select group of individuals, and I feel honored to be a part of the team.”

UPS full motion simulator in Louisville, KY. Photo by Melody Hood.

As a pilot, he is often away from home, as many of UPS’ routes are overnight and international, leading to jet-lag and overlapping schedules. Still, Captain James says, being a pilot for UPS consists of many of the same hours as other large, commercial airlines. However, there are a few perks to being a cargo-only airline, including being able to skip the passenger terminal.

Another unique aspect of UPS, says Captain James, is their emphasis on continuing to create diversity, including taking an active role in hiring female pilots. Currently, six percent of the pilots employed by UPS are women. UPS made history in 1988 when the airline hired Patrice Washington, a young, African-American woman engineer, who would go on to become a captain for UPS in 1994, the first black, female captain of a major U.S. airline. Jim Mayer, the public relations manager for UPS, spoke of the continuing effort to hire female pilots. “We are huge advocates for women in aviation and as more women gain the necessary experience, we look forward to receiving and hiring more female applicants in the future. It is currently a bit of a challenge because the pool of available women applicants is not as large as the one for men, but in this day and age, it is certainly a step in the right direction towards growing our company with people of all genders and races.” 

UPS is a proponent of encouraging women to apply for piloting careers, and recently, the airline awarded a $21,000 grant to a chapter of Women in Aviation International. This group gives scholarships and financial aid to women interested in becoming pilots, as well as promoting opportunities and education to women who have a desire to earn their pilot license one day. UPS also promotes Wishes Delivered, a holiday campaign that promotes and donates to various causes. This past winter season, Taylor Peeff, a ten-year-old girl whose dream is to become a pilot one day, visited UPS and one of their captains on a very special day. After a ride in one of UPS’s flight simulators, Taylor had the opportunity to fly a small airplane for the first time, accompanied by one of UPS’s chief pilots. She bubbled over with  excitement and joy as she surveyed the land from above, certain that becoming a pilot is her destiny. For every share any Wishes Delivered video received on social media, UPS awarded one dollar, up to $100,000, towards our 3 charity partners – Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club of America, and Toys For Tots.

Future pilot Taylor Peef. Be sure to view her YouTube video at: Photo by Melody Hood.

Captain James and Johnmark both spoke of their love of aviation, and feel a special bond in being able to share such a career. Johnmark was inspired to join the aviation industry by his father. “When I was a child, my father instilled in me a great sense of character,” Johnmark says. “When I was hired as a fleet intern by UPS, I continued to see that same sense of integrity and character all across the board at UPS, and I am continually inspired to go after that same kind of lifestyle –to maintain the character of someone who is respected and looked up to.” As a child, Johnmark was entertained by his father’s stories of travel, and was intrigued by the uniform and the life of flying in the skies. “I used to try on my dad’s hats, to imagine I was going to work with my dad. I wasn’t able to do that as a kid, not like a lot of my friends, but I still felt special to be a part of such a great company in some small way.” Captain James remarks on this as well, recalling a time when he was a young father and wished to one day ride in the flight deck with his child. Recently, they both say, they were able to fly to Hawaii, with Captain James working the trip and Johnmark riding the flight deck jumpseat. “For Johnmark to be in the cockpit with me – he had no clue how excited I was to share that with him, because it was a dream I’d had for a while that I thought would never come true,” said Captain James.

For new pilots seeking a career with UPS, both father and son give some advice. “It’s a very long process once you apply, and it takes a lot of dedication and patience,” Johnmark offers. They agree that a great attitude and a good work ethic will get an applicant further in line than otherwise, and one must be willing to adhere to the family culture of UPS in order to maintain a smooth career. 

Captain Mark Reisdorfer checks the aircraft before their flight. Photo by Melody Hood.

Captain James reminisces about his 28 years flying for the company, and recounts one of his favorite memories. “I flew into Anchorage, Alaska, years ago, and I really love fishing. One day, on a layover in Anchorage, between trips, my first officer and I hopped in a rental car, drove to Homer, Alaska, and went halibut fishing. It’s an experience. The fish are so big, it’s like bringing up a barn door. He and I had so much fun on that trip, we had chartered a boat, had gone out on the water, fished, took in the beautiful nature surrounding us, and we looked at each other just like, ‘Wow, we are at work, and this is what we get to do?’ And it was such a wonderful feeling, and we packed up the fish, enough fish for a year! There are so many different stories of cultures, of people, of food and local traditions, and beautiful languages. I wake up every day and feel so lucky to be able to work here. I wouldn’t give it up for the world, and I’m so thankful that my family is continuing in my footsteps.”  ACN

Captain Mark Reisdorfer and First Officer Jennifer Desserich taking off into the clouds. Photo by Melody Hood.


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