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jabrel3

The truth about IFLY and their treatment of the special needs community

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Dear Friends,

My name is Gabe Sierra, former IFLY instructor, and USPA coach D - 36181.

Last year I decided to temporarily step away from my career as a construction manager to pursue my passion for body flight. I applied for an instructor position with IFLY and relocated from Miami to Dallas to work for the company. Upon completing my 1 month instructor training, I walked into IFLY Dallas the day before my first shift. I was surprised to see that the building was full of special needs individuals as they where hosting an “all abilities night.”

I remember thinking to myself “wow this is great, we should do this all the time.” I proceeded upstairs to find my new general manager and asked how I could help. Not being on the clock and fresh out of training, there wasn’t much I could do but I stuck around to watch and give a hand when needed. As I observed, I saw some things that where unsettling to say the least.

For one, IFLY was filling up classes (12 people to 1 instructor) in the same manner that they would with a group of not disabled individuals. This struck me as odd because obviously taking a class of special needs individuals into a wind tunnel and keeping everyone safe is no easy task. I could see the frustration on my fellow instructors faces and heard some disturbing comments about how “they didn’t get paid to do this, or this is stupid etc.” I watched a young boy step into the wind while an instructor had his back to the door, luckily the driver was able to cut the wind quickly enough and nobody was injured.

I went home that night and could not stop thinking about what I had just witnessed. I thought to myself, “surely there is a better way to do this.” Over the next few months I began putting together a plan to help improve the experience and increase the volume of special needs individuals who would be given the opportunity to fly. My first thought of course was, “I need to raise money because I want to offer this for free.” So, I started a gofundme account titled “Flying for a Cure.” I donated one of my iFLY paychecks and started to spread the word on Facebook. My idea was received very well and with several donations from my immediate family, I had a few thousand dollars to get going.

I was now ready to start bringing in flyers on my off days. I posted on Facebook that I was available to privately coach individuals with any special need, completely for free, on a first come first serve basis. Things started off a little slow and I realized I needed to get out and spread the word. I began using my free time to make my way around Dallas in search of different organizations who might send flyers my way. I would put on my iFLY uniform and take trips to the local children’s hospital and any place I could find that catered to special needs individuals.

Eventually, I got my first phone call. The call came from a family with an 11 year old son named Evan who suffered from leukemia. The children’s hospital had given them my information and they immediately reached out. Evan had unfortunately relapsed and was heading back into intensive treatment for at least a month. The family brought him to me the day before he went back into the hospital.

As the word started to spread, more and more people began to reach out. I soon had my next couple of flyers, Robert and Liz. Robert was 16 and suffering from non verbal autism and Liz age 33 had been in a wheelchair for 11 years due to a stroke that left her paralyzed from the waist down and with minimal arm movement.

Soon, I started to get feedback from the families I was flying with. I kept hearing back about how much of an impact the experience was making. I would often hear “thank you so much, there is no way we could have afforded to do this without you.”

Things started to take off and soon I was organizing entire events, had started an official Facebook page, and even had a special request from Liz. She wanted to take things one step further and asked me if it was possible for her to do an actual skydive. I told her I would do my best and I began to talk to some of my friends in the industry. Eventually with the help of Skydive Spaceland Dallas, I was able to make that dream come true for her. We modified a tandem harness, and I used some of the money I had raised to make it happen.

Over the next few months I continued my work, flying with over 50 different families. I began building profiles on my flyers and their disabilities, taking notes on how things would go in order to continually develop a better experience for my students. In the end I raised nearly $7,000 which I paid directly to iFLY and then volunteered my time to organize and instruct my flyers.

To my surprise along the way, I realized that not everyone felt the same way I did about helping the special needs population. A number of my fellow employees (not all) wanted nothing to do with helping me. In some ways I understood, as many of you know, being an iFLY instructor is quite a difficult and physically demanding job for which starting pay is $11 per hour. You can see why some would prefer not donate any of their extra time to “work” for free.

On several occasions I received less than pleasant remarks from my fellow employees and eventually I quit the company, with the idea that I would go back to construction and devote my off time to doing charity events around the country. I announced that we planned on doing events in multiple cities at different iFLY locations over the next year and I moved back home to Miami.

A few weeks after arriving home I received an email from Terrance L. Jenkins, general manger of iFLY Dallas, he stated that I would no longer be allowed to host Flying for a Cure events at his tunnel. At around the same time I had a meeting with iFLY in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. They of course thought what I was doing was great and despite being aware of IFLY Dallas’s position, granted me full permission to run events at IFLY Ft. Lauderdale.

I began spreading the word at home and soon I had 50 orphans from an organization called “Miami Rescue Mission,” who where going to fly for free right around Christmas (2017). I also reached out to IFLY’s corporate office to see how and why they would possibly stop me from doing what I was doing. I was run around in circles and never received a clear answer. Eventually corporate sided with their general manager (Dallas) and told me that it was his decision not theirs (despite being a corporate owned location). Things finally came crashing down about a week later when I received a call from IFLY Ft. Lauderdale, the Vice President of IFLY had reached out to them and said under no circumstances to allow me to operate.

Having already promised Miami Rescue Mission their flight time, I withdrew all of the money from my account in Ft. Lauderdale and purchased iFLY return packs which I then took and delivered to them. The orphans all got to go flying but I had no part in it and it was no longer a Flying for a Cure event.

Now, a few months have passed and Flying for a Cure has been completely halted. Recently, I have had an influx of calls from families who had heard about what I was doing or had previously flown with me. They want to fly. Not really having an answer for them, I have basically had to apologize and inform them that iFLY has shut down my charity program and that they would have to contact them and go as a regular paying customer.

I know that as a community we can do better than this! I would love nothing more than to be able to donate my time and money to the advancement of what I like to call “flight therapy.” Spread the word guys and let me know what you think. I will post as many pictures as I can of the events that took place.


Thanks,

Gabe

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Awesome work Gabe.

Did IFLY give you any logical reason for their decision making? It seems odd that:

a: They would turn down business.

b: They wouldn't recognise the positive PR they would garner from participating.

I've participated in a programme with an organisation called Canteen....kids (teenagers) with terminal cancer, where they had an annual week long live in camp (mainly to give caregivers a break) where volunteers gave up their time to help out (doctors, nurses etc) and the local operators donated activities for them.

We gave free tandems, but they got to go jetboating, white water rafting, sea fishing, rides on Harleys (the local bikie gang chipped in with that), as well as many other activities.

The local service clubs (Rotary, Lions etc) provided all sorts of help and organising, and basically the whole community got involved.

Those kids had a ball, but I think all of us got much more out of it. Money can't buy that kind of experience.

Sadly very few of those kids were seen at the next years camp.....which was sad.

Not a good look for IFLY, especially in todays world of social media.

I'd like to hear their reasoning....
My computer beat me at chess, It was no match for me at kickboxing....

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Thanks Gabe for sharing your story. Very poor form of iFly. Unfortunately, they are the only wind tunnel operator here in Sydney. I hope that, after reading your story, the Australian chain isn't affiliated with the American one apart from sharing a name/trademark.

I work with children myself, and have worked with special needs kids as well. So I appreciate your service Gabe. Cheers mate

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Thanks guys for the positivity! You would be surprised that on a number of occasions when sharing my story I was accused of being a lier or scammer because my story didn’t make sense. These were all by people outside of the skydiving world though. I think most people in the community have heard enough stories or have friends who are current/former employees and know that iFLY is not the greatest company to work for.

But as far as answering me, no they did not, I repeatedly reached out to corporate after Dallas shut me out. I was usually met with a unwelcome attitude and eventually they just said it was each individual tunnels decision. I assume this is because if the story really got out, they could just turn around and throw the Dallas GM under the bus. However, once back home in Miami everything was going fine until the Vice President personally called IFLY Ft. lauderdale and said under no circumstances to allow me to operate. I already had an account open with a few thousand dollars in it and an upcoming event for 50 orphans. Luckily I was able to withdraw the money and donated all of it to the organization who used it to take the kids to iFLY anyway. However I had no part in the event and was not even present.

All of the work I was doing with many different families had to stop and I dropped the issue for a while in order to protect several people within the company who tried to help me. There are certain things I can’t say publicly as I would likely put their jobs in jeopardy. But I want to make clear that there are some amazing people still employed by them who have supported me through and through.

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Gabe, did your program align or coordinate with iFLY's "All Abilities Night" ?

Did U just buy discounted time and fund your guests or did they pay you some of it back somehow?

Seems like at some point - if free to guests - your program might have eaten into available flight time for 1st time flyers time that I have heard is iFLY's bread and butter.

What you were doing was great but it seems like rapid expansion could have inevitably run into tough challenges.

Would love to know more but can understand if that's a problem too.

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wan2doit

Gabe, did your program align or coordinate with iFLY's "All Abilities Night" ?

Did U just buy discounted time and fund your guests or did they pay you some of it back somehow?

Seems like at some point - if free to guests - your program might have eaten into available flight time for 1st time flyers time that I have heard is iFLY's bread and butter.

What you were doing was great but it seems like rapid expansion could have inevitably run into tough challenges.

Would love to know more but can understand if that's a problem too.




My program was completely separate from all abilities night and different in many ways. Also, my account abided by the same rules that all other block accounts do. Not sure I understand your first question, all of the money I raised was used to pay for flight time.

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$11 an hour pay and a owner,owners, that quite frankly don't share any of your altruistic values.

Some business have a every penny counts profit motive. There is nothing wrong with that. I think you are batting your head against a wall here. For other employees. The low pay and management pressure on revenue maximization. Are likely key factors in their lack of support for your ideas and efforts.

The motives and values of young instructors and owners at a place like Ifly. Don't necessarily mesh with more mature business. Where PR and a sense of community may be a larger component of the business plan.

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Such a wonderful thing you have done and it sucks that iFly did not support your venture. I don't understand why though. Didn't they get their money regardless? Why do they care if you are the one raising the funds?

I'm so saddened by you having to turn people away. It must break your heart. Just know you did a lot of good and I'm sure with a heart as big as yours you are finding other ways to help.

<3

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Way to be awesome Gabe, but like other people have said

"You're telling me a highly litigious for profit company with a reputation for questionable business practices and treating their employees less than awesome isn't into added liability (getting sued costs money, even if you win) and someone else independently organizing events at their facilities?! Color me shocked..."

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