Real Answers from Real Pilots

Females in Aviation

As a girl from a small town in New England that wants to be an airline pilot, I have been warned by local airport managers that “as a girl in the aviation business I will be treated like crap and need to learn to tell the rude men to screw off”.

As pilots for regional/major airlines, have you ever personally witnessed or heard of a female pilot being disrespected or treated differently simply because she is not a man? I’d like to hear stories on this so I have some idea of what to expect in the future.

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Gabby,

I think saying you’ll be treated like “crap” might be a little extreme but to be honest there are some biases out there. Aviation has (was?) been traditionally a very male dominated field. Although many women have risen to the top of this industry in every aspect, there are still some dinosaurs around who aren’t fond of “chick pilots”. Anyone with half a brain clearly recognizes the fact that women can and are just as good (or as bad) at flying as men are. The problem is if I’m a crappy pilot, well I’m a crappy pilot BUT if you are you’ve just contributed to the stigma. Fair? Of course not but that’s the reality. My best friend is a female pilot and has been for almost 20 yrs. She really has no horror stories other than the occasional inappropriate comment. The biggest issues seem to come from the passengers. She’s flown 747s and been a check pilot but she still gets frustrated at the looks and comments she gets on occasion from some of the ignorant passengers who wonder why she’s in the cockpit.

When I read your post I actually gave her a call and asked if she had any words of wisdom for a young aspiring female pilot. She said the following: “First you will encounter some negativity but that happens in many industries. While it is be annoying at times I’ve never had any real issues and I certainly wouldn’t let some foolish sexist idiots get in the way of my goals. Do the best job you can always, don’t have a chip on your shoulder and when you do hear something negative use it as fuel to prove them wrong”. She also recommends you check out WAI (https://www.wai.org/) for some motivation and support.

Adam

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Gabby,

The airlines are a rather professional environment. In my twelve years of flying I have never witnessed what you speak of.

Chris

Gabby,

That kind of behavior isn’t tolerated. On the off chance someone does treat
another unfairly based on gender, race, religion, etc. there are policies
in place to protect those on the receiving end.

Tory

Gabby,

I don’t want to paint a dark picture or discourage you in any way but I have to say my 2 colleagues are flat out wrong. While none of us are women, as I said my very best friend on the planet is a female pilot. She loves her job and couldn’t think of doing anything else but to say that there aren’t some sexist people in our industry is simply not true. There’s a closed group on FaceBook called FAST (Female Aviators Sticking Together) that was created by and for female pilots to support each other. She’s showed me many of the posts and it’s frankly sad. Honestly there’s nothing heinous I’ve seen or heard, no violence or blatant discrimination. It’s more off handed comments that get old fast. There are stories of female crews waiting for hotel shuttles to depart only to find out the van driver was waiting for the pilots (aka the MEN). Passengers popping their heads in the cockpit saying “hey sweetie can you get me a coffee” etc. While Tory is 100% correct that there are policies in place to prevent these things are you really going to call the Chief Pilot or HR because some bonehead calls you “honey” or says “wow you look REALLY good in that uniform?” or “1 more empty kitchen”? Chances are you’re not. End of the world? No. Worth not pursuing your dream? DEFINITELY NOT! But aggravating all the same.

Again I’m not trying to discourage you but I do believe you should know what it is and what it isn’t.

Adam

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Thank you so much for your insight. I’ll definitely check out the WAI site!

I wasn’t talking specifically about the male pilots treating the female pilots badly. I meant everyone in general. Passengers, etc. I had watched a documentary on youtube about recruiting more female pilots. The comments were horrifying. “I will never fly in a plane driven by a woman”. The fact that he said driven was even funnier. It’s good to hear that the airlines tend to be professional when it comes to this kind of thing.

Thank you for your insight :slight_smile:

Gabby, do you recall the name of that documentary? I’d love to watch it, for entertainment purposes more than anything. (I’m a future ATP career track student, all set and arriving to the training base early October.)

I’ve encountered my fair share of sexism in other industries. It exists, period, as sure as the sun rises and sets each day - no matter what policies are in place to deter offenders. Still, I agree with @Adam 100%, that the best way to counter sexism is simply to show up and do good - maybe even better than the others, but humbly so, just doing what we’re there to do and extraordinarily well. If enough of us do that, the sexism will eventually decrease. Hope you’ll join us!

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Well said Patricia.

Adam

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Yes, the documentary is called “inside the cockpit”, it follows arund easyjet new hires. It’s a TV series in Europe and there’s 2 episodes so far.

Here’s the link:

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Hi Gabby,

I’m a former ATP student and instructor. I have been at the regionals for 2.5 years now. I do pilot recruiting as well as aircraft deliveries for my company from Brazil. I am also a member of FAST and WAI. If you’d like to message me privately I’d be happy to answer your specific questions, as well as give you a better idea of what my experiences have been specifically. While it is very nice that these men are trying to help to the best of their knowledge (or secondhand knowledge), it makes a big difference to have experienced it for yourself. I’d be happy to talk to you one on one. JLascomb@gmail.com. Look forward to hearing from you!

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This doesn’t exactly answer your question, but Vermont’s independent weekly just did a nice article profiling some local women pilots:

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Jordan,

It’s nice of you to offer to speak with Gabby directly. That said this is a public forum and the beauty of that is that people who wish to remain anonymous can gain info and insight with min effort or “exposure”. I encourage you to share your stories and experiences (positive, negative or both) with all.

Adam

While I appreciate the thought behind this, I just don’t care to have my personal experiences remarked upon in a public forum. I am not an ATP designated Pilot Mentor so I did not sign up to answer questions about my experiences publicly, as you all did. If I can share insight to someone to better prepare them with what to expect, then great. But most people on this forum will not share in these experiences in the same way that Gabby will. I would rather keep it a private conversation if you don’t mind.

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Fair enough and why would I mind?

Simply thought it might help others as well.

Adam

Hi Gabbi, I, too, am a “girl” (well, maybe slightly older) from a New England town. I’m also one of the first women airline pilots, hired in 1978 and retired, by law, in 2014. I was most definitely “treated like crap.” It changed my life. Despite my best efforts, it changed who I am inside and how I view the world. I expected it from my peers. What I guess I didn’t expect was to be mistreated by management–the men with the power to affect my career. Their bias cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars and much career advancement.

To try to make sense of it all, I worked, for a few years, in the training department for a company psychologist, as a CRM developer. Because my boss was a psychologist, all types of traumatized employees would come to talk, so I have some idea of the “big picture.” It’s a harsh world. Not only women are mistreated, but it’s particularly hard on women because, if–even through no fault of your own–you fall into a bad situation, if you’re “one of the guys,” the union is likely to help you. If you’re “different,” they’re not so likely to help you.

As part of my work, I developed a training program that included what was initially called “gender bias” training–mandated because the airline had violated anti-discrimination laws. There were a couple of woman on the committee for which I worked. They refused to believe that women were being harassed – they were the other side of the story. One was the daughter of a pilot who’d flown for the airline. Another had a friend in management. I, and many other women, had none of those advantages. One of the first women military pilots, I was told, quit the job, because in her experience, harassment at the airline was much worse than even in the military.

What that says is: a lot of what you encounter is a matter of sheer luck and individual circumstances. For a while, I had a flight manager who was on my side, and that made all the difference. My next flight manager was a pilot who “scabbed” (worked) during a strike. I never again had a manager who did anything to help, so life became difficult.

My complaints are much more with management than with line pilots, because they have the power to harm.

As for line pilots, I’ve flown with great guys, and I’ve flown 15 hour trips with pilots who’ve refused to speak a non-operational word. My first captain in NY refused to fly with me. I was the first woman pilot he’d encountered. His manager sent him back to the plane. By the end of the three day trip, he said he’d never had such a great trip. He confessed,“I thought you’d be like my wife.” That said a lot to me. I was rarely treated like “one of the guys” but most of the line pilots would be reasonably friendly if I persisted.

I’ve talked to women doctors. They have a tough time, but I think it’s worse in aviation. And you’re in the middle, between the pilots and the flight attendants. Some F/As root for you. Some are jealous. Some women F/As don’t like you because you’re taking up the space of a pilot whom they might marry.

You run into all kinds of things. One pilot farted all the way to London, just to see if he could make me upset. The only person who actually did ever refuse to fly with me, however, was an old woman. I guess she figured, if she couldn’t do it, then I couldn’t either.

All of that being said, if I had to do it all over again, I probably would choose another career, not because of the gender issues but because of the way it ended up – our pensions were terminated. I lost millions of dollars, as did most of my peers. Our pay was cut in half and benefits decimated. I think that I couldn’t contributed more to the world in another occupation.

On the other hand, maybe I would do it again. Now that I’ve been forced, by the age limit, to retired, I find it very difficult to stay on the ground. As they say, the “world was my oyster”–traveling to exotic cities, seeing amazing things, flying regularly over the North Pole, having lunch under the Eiffel Tower. Unless maybe you’re an international exec, there aren’t many careers that can give you that. And, I guess, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I find that, because of the mistreatment, I’m more negative than I used to be, but I guess, in some way, I’m also more understanding of people and situations. I don’t know. I wish I’d never had to see the dark sides of so many people, but then again, I don’t live with a lot of illusions about what people are like. That, I think, is a good thing.

And I’m proud of my career, because I know what it’s taken to survive. A woman just starting an airline career today will have a different road. Easier, I hope. But not without adversity. The worst thing I can say is that, over time, things didn’t change all that much. Some people are great. Others are just “bad apples” when it comes to accepting those who are “different.”

My advice: don’t have tunnel vision. Look around at all the career possibilities. Give everything a fair evaluation. Then if flying is what you really think you want to do, go for it. And if you go for it, go for the best. Don’t settle for second best. If you believe you can do it, you’re half way there. No matter what anyone says, good or bad, believe in yourself. That’s what I’ve learned more than anything: I know who I am. It hurts when someone mistreats me, but mistreating someone – that’s their problem. Not mine. You really learn to depend on yourself and believe in yourself.

Another piece of advice: I have a lot of degrees in other fields and other work experience. A pilot should always have at least one other career prospect. I spent a lot of years laid off. I once lost my medical for several years. Depending only on flying is not a wise thing. But if you love it, go for it and enjoy the trip! Best of luck in whatever you do.

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Maureen,

I sincerely appreciate you chiming in here and have nothing but respect for your courage through what had to be some VERY challenging times. Anyone who’s read my comments over the years knows I’m not one to sugarcoat or try and paint a rosy picture that simply isn’t there. The airline industry can be anything but stable and is not always fair. I know more than a few horror stories but also know many success stories as well for both male and female pilots. As I said in my first response to say there are no biases out there simply isn’t true. I also readily admit I’m not a female so for me to say I know what it’s like wouldn’t be a just statement. I do need to say though I do have many friends who are female pilots and I need to believe that we as an industry have made strides since the 70’s (CRM hadn’t even been invented yet).

I want to encourage Gabbi and tell her that this industry (as a whole) will welcome her. Is it fair for me to make this statement as a man? I believe so simply because of the relationships I have in this industry. My women friends are Chief Pilots, Directors of Safety, and a few Check Airmen and every one of them could not conceive of doing anything else. I see them encouraging their own children and children of their friends. They serve as mentors and do presentations in schools all to encourage more young women to follow their dreams.

I’m the first to admit I’ve been very fortunate in my career but so have many of my friends both male and female. Again I truly appreciate the path women like you paved and admire you for your dedication and persistence. Things are very good right now but as we all know that can change in a heartbeat. I have been downgraded and lost significant money due to pay cuts BUT still knowing what I know now I’d do it all again without question. For my part this has been (and continues to be) an amazing career and there’s far more good than bad.

Adam

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Hey Maureen!

Congratulations on what you have accomplished in your career as a pilot. Also, thank you for sharing such a personal story with me. I really do appreciate hearing not only the good but also the ugly, and I will definitely keep other careers in mind as I move forward.

Thank you again for you post :slight_smile:

Thank you for sharing, I’ll definitely be reading this article!

Thanks, Matt. Stories like that help (me, at least). :slight_smile: