PHL Unsung Heroes: American Airlines Facilities Maintenance Supervisor Barbara Calise

American Airlines' Facilities Maintenance Supervisor Barbara Calise recently received the “Unsung Heroes” award from Philadelphia International Airport’s (PHL) Employee Recognition Program. This award honors employees who work behind the scenes who are not typically recognized for their work. Although they do not work directly with guests, their effectiveness significantly impacts the airport and guest experience.   

Barbara CaliseIn her role as a Facilities Maintenance Supervisor at American Airlines, Calise oversees the janitorial department and manages facility related issues in the terminals, hangars, remote buildings, and catering. She also updates and changes American Airlines’ signage, Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs), and first aid kits. Additionally, Calise and her team handle AA's snow removal. Although she mainly works from 11 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., her shift constantly changes depending on the needs of operations. She also works the overnight shift twice a month.  

Calise earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Widener University and a master's certificate in Human Resource Management from Villanova University. She is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR).  

She always longed for an aviation career and began working as a part-time customer service agent at PHL in 1989. "The most meaningful part of my job is making strides in the right direction to make PHL a better facility for our customers and employees," said Calise. "Our team has a reputation for getting things done and I take pride in that."     

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Calise’s department was charged with placing the mandatory social distancing signage at AA’s gates, jet bridges, ticket counters, and baggage claim areas. They also replaced soap dispensers with hands-free accessible dispensers in restrooms and added hand sanitizer stations at all AA gate, ticket counter, and baggage claim areas.  

"It was a crazy time," said Calise. "However, we worked through it as a team by communicating daily about where we were and what was expected to be completed moving forward. Communication was the key to success in this never-ending project!"  

In his nomination of  Calise, American Airlines Manager-on-Duty Kevin Carter stated, "Over the past two years, COVID-19 has struck the airport in so many ways. Barbara has been instrumental in ensuring we stayed clean and up to par. We would consistently call on her to help us clean an office due to a positive case of COVID-19. She partnered with Customer Care to create this cleaning committee which focused on our appearance as we began ramping back in service."  

Any job in facilities requires one to be flexible and adapt to quick changes. Luckily, those are two things Calise excels at on the job. Networking, social skills and building relationships are all essential to her, especially when interacting with passengers, vendors, and all levels of management. She strives to make the work environment a better place for employees by prioritizing listening to their concerns. "I'm always available to listen to our internal customers express their concerns about an issue and want employees to feel comfortable that they can talk to me," said Calise.   

Within the AA facilities team, Calise is one of three supervisors and a manager who all collaborate efficiently to achieve AAs' goals. “We have excellent communication amongst ourselves, which is huge in staying with our motto of 'getting things done'," said Calise. "Our group is so small. We are like family. Teamwork is always first and foremost. We always have each other's back in meeting our departmental goals. When something is delayed, and we can't immediately rectify the problem, we communicate and review the plan to find a better way to resolve it."    

"Her attitude is so positive that she will stop what she is doing to make time for anyone in need," said Carter. "Working with Barbara is pure joy and communicating with her is very easy. She understands her role in a way that is effective and enhances the relationships around her. I have grown to appreciate Barbara's dedicated role to the customer care team. She loves Philadelphia, and it shows."  

At PHL, Calise is the president of the Professional Women in Aviation (PWA) Employee Business Resource Group for American Airlines. "What I love and appreciate about our PWA is how we help and engage with others," she said. "To name a few, we have volunteered at MANNA in the city to prepare food for sick patients in the area. In addition, we have an upcoming bake sale to raise money for breast cancer awareness. We also get involved with the Girls in Aviation Day, which allows young women to be exposed to different aspects of the aviation industry through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers."   

As an airline employee, she’s excited about the traveling privilege her job affords her and plans on continuing to take advantage of complimentary flights when she retires as well. A plane landing and departing on time still amazes Calise, who appreciates every department involved in the process.  

A few years ago, Calise volunteered to decorate a gate and airplane overnight for the holidays for a child who was sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation who was headed to Disney World. “My heart was full to know that we could make it special for this child,” she said.  

One of Calise’s most memorable moments was when she found and returned a passenger’s wallet with $1,000 in it. The passenger sent Calise a gift card as a token of his appreciation.  

"I’m huge on always saying something nice to others as you have no idea what they are going through," said Calise. “Everyone is going through something. Based on this, I would say, 'If I put positivity into the universe, I’ll get positivity back,' is a perfect mantra for me."  

Although Calise briefly left PHL in 2006, her love for the aviation industry brought her back in 2009. She is always in the know, as working in facilities is a 24/7 job that never ends, which is why she’s always on her A-game and ready to respond.  

“I love my job and working with American Airlines,” she said. “There is never a dull moment, and it’s very fast-paced – two things that I thrive on.”   

The PHL Employee Recognition Program was established by the airport’s Guest Experience (GX) Department. Honorees are nominated by their peers and selected by the GX Council Steering Committee’s Employee Conduct and Recognition Committee. For more information about the program and to nominate an employee, click here.  


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Heather Redfern
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