Meet Loretta Purnell, the only female machinist technician at United. She’s 76 years young.
Purnell is one of many women at United who are raising the bar in the aviation industry. From its business resource group, uIMPACT, to its career programs like Aviate, United is committed to providing quality opportunities for women like Purnell—and in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on her impressive career.
Originally from the Bay Area, Purnell was always encouraged by her family to strive for higher learning, but that wasn’t the path she saw for herself. Growing up with five brothers, Purnell always felt more comfortable working with a hammer or a screw- driver than reading a book.
“High school could not hold my interest, and as a result I didn’t graduate,” Purnell says. “I quickly realized that it was a mistake and immediately took and passed the GED test. I even attended college and took a few courses that I enjoyed, such as anthropology and world history.”
In her early 20s, she began working at a small company in Emeryville, California, wiring and soldering small units. It was there that she began her apprenticeship in a machine shop, and she very quickly knew that was where she wanted to be. That job is what ultimately brought her to United.
“After about 15 years at the company, my love for travel, coupled with the encouragement of an acquaintance who worked for United, led me to apply for a machinist position here,” Purnell says. “And the rest is history.” It has been 26 years since she started her career here, at age 50.
Purnell’s job is to remanufacture engine parts. After a jet engine has been in use for so many hours, it is made to be taken apart and reworked, instead of indicating that it needs service, like a car’s engine would.
“You have to take off old parts and rework it to a point where it is new again,” Purnell explains. “The engine will then be reassembled, and at that point it is completely overhauled. We work on all types of engines and make sure they are running smoothly and properly.”
Purnell’s work is grueling, but she loves it, and it’s what keeps United’s operation running smoothly. What keeps her daily work ethic strong? The ability to work with her hands as well as the opportunity to solve problems.
Being the company’s only female machinist has been challenging at times for Purnell, but she notes that she has never felt underestimated in her time at United. In fact, in addition to her machinist job, she trains fellow mechanics every year to maintain the company qualifications.
“I stand up for women’s rights because I know I walked into a man’s world—as a designated station trainer, I don’t tolerate nonsense in my classes,” she says. “Working here has enhanced my knowledge of this field, as well as trained me to do other field-related operations that I was unaware existed.”
Purnell encourages young women to pursue their passions, whatever those may be. “All jobs don’t have to be about being pretty and wearing beautiful clothes. Jobs that are worthwhile and meaningful can come in all types of venues,” she says. “I look in the mirror each morning, and I am quite happy with who is looking back at me.”
About United’s Women’s Business Resource Group
United aims to represent the diverse, global customer base we serve. Our women’s business resource group, uIMPACT, offers programming and speakers and advocates for policy changes to attract and retain diverse talent and inspire the next generation of girls in aviation.