Superpower on the Side is a series that features WeWork team members and how they spend their time when they’re not at work.
Daniel Baumel flew a plane for the first time before he ever drove a car.
“It was definitely love at first flight,” he says.
The Queens, New York, native was drawn to aviation from an early age. His father would take him on day trips to the Jones Beach Air Show and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum whenever they visited Washington, D.C. In high school he paid for flying lessons by cleaning bathrooms and giving tennis lessons. His parents indulged his fantasies by sending him to a weeklong flying program in Florida. And when Baumel was 16, his flight instructor told him he was ready to take up the plane on his own.
“The first time you solo an airplane and you realize there’s no one there with you—you’re taking off and landing the thing by yourself—it’s actually one of the best feelings I think I’ve had,” says Baumel, 25, a contracts analyst at WeWork in New York.
In college, Baumel attended the University of Oklahoma, lured by its acclaimed aviation program. By the end of his first semester, the aviation management major had earned his private pilot’s license. When an arm injury from a moped accident prevented him from continuing on his path toward earning his commercial license, he got a job as a contracts administrator at Boeing, one of the world’s largest aerospace companies, in 2015.
He spent the next two years living and working in Oklahoma City. Baumel loved his job, but ironically, working at an aerospace company didn’t leave him much time to go flying on his own time. In 2017, he returned home to New York City and accepted a job at WeWork.
“I truly believe things happen for a reason,” he says of not being able to pursue his original dream of becoming a commercial pilot. “I got a job with one of the biggest aerospace firms in the world. And that job of course led to what I do here at WeWork.”
Being at a company that encourages its employees to pursue their personal interests gave Baumel the time and encouragement to renew his private pilot’s license. He had read about pilots who volunteered for animal rescue missions and realized he could do the same; it was a way to give back and help him log flying time. He connected with Michael Schneider, founder of Pilots to the Rescue, a nonprofit that saves pets facing euthanasia by flying them to places where they can be adopted into loving homes.
“I am so grateful for this organization and Michael because they take a lot of the hard logistics out of it for me,” says Baumel. “In terms of participating in these missions, he’s made it so easy for me, and I’m really grateful to him for taking me under his wing, no pun intended.”
Baumel completed his first animal rescue in April 2019, flying down to North Carolina with Schneider and a rep from the Ulster County American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to pick up three dogs and a litter of puppies that another volunteer pilot had flown in from South Carolina. Clare Cheyne, one of Baumel’s WeWork colleagues, tagged along to film the trip for WeWork’s social media.
On that first trip, Baumel experienced how rewarding the missions are. “There was a Chocolate Lab that was roaming free on a leash,” he recalls. “The ASPCA rep who was with us got motion sickness, and this dog saw her distress and put its head on her lap. I thought that was unbelievably adorable and shows that dogs have this empathy you can’t really explain. It was a cool thing to see.”
In March, Pilots to the Rescue partnered with another nonprofit called Angel Flight that provides free air transportation to medical patients. On that trip, Baumel and Schneider flew a two-year-old boy with Hirschsprung disease from his home in New Hampshire to his specialist in Boston.
“This two-year-old kid, who may or may not be aware of [his condition], just had the most infectious, bright outlook on things,” says Baumel. “We landed in Boston, and we’re waiting on the ambulette to come and pick him up andwatching Star Wars, and he was just bouncing around, happy. If that smile is all I get in return, I’m good.”
Many missions happen during the workweek, but Baumel is happy to devote vacation time to the cause. “My boss has been supportive, and the missions are worth the vacation days,” he says. “It’s been incredible—one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in a long time.”
If you want to help make more animal rescues possible, consider donating to Pilots to the Rescue.