When my mom became a flight attendant 32 years ago, one of her interview questions was “why did you get married so young?” And that was even in the more historically female part of the industry!
Now, the fact that the question was asked not too long ago is upsetting, and it shows that there at least was a connotation that being married and being the mother/wife figure hinders one from being able to fulfill their professional duties. The recency of the question is also why there is a call for change in the industry coming from women, caretakers, and organizations like ourselves.
I share this experience not to bash that the question was asked, though, but rather to celebrate how much progress has been made for females.
In December 1934, Helen Richey became a pilot for Central Airlines, but this was short lived. In November 1935, she was forced out of her position for being a woman. Fast forward 38 years, and females were flying in airline cockpits again. Frontier hired Emily Howell Warner in January 1973, and American Airlines hired Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo in March 1973. If you want to see what the New York Times had to say about this, you can read this article that was published in June 1973: https://www.nytimes.com/1973/06/10/archives/fly-me-means-fly-me-women-pilots-trends.html)
So, for 48 years now, females have been increasing their presence in the cockpit. Like I said, there is a lot of change that is still ahead of us, but 48 years is a number to celebrate! Here is another reference for the progress we have made according to the FAA: In 1990, only 3% of Commercial certificates were held by women, and only 2% of ATP certificates were held by women. In 2020, 7% of Commercial certificates were held by women, and 4.5% of ATP certificates were held by women.
The percentages do remain small but are trending positively. For that, I am grateful. I am grateful for the trailblazers like Helen Richey, Emily Howell Warner, Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo, and many more (the list goes on and on), who’s determination has helped female pilots today know that we do have a place in the cockpit.
I have hope for the future too. By exposing young girls to female pilots and by advocating for inclusivity and for caregivers in the industry, we can continue to increase these statistics. These seemingly small percentages of females are just a part of history. One day, they will be used to show how much progress has been made since 2020; we all know that year is going down in history anyways! We are a part of the statistics that will be one day be referenced to show the growth of our industry. We are making changes – good changes.
Mattie is a CFII at Auburn University, where she recently graduated with a degree in Professional Flight. She enjoys drinking her morning coffee, traveling, and spending time with friends and family. Mattie is looking forward to a successful and fulfilling career as a professional pilot whether it be in the business aviation industry or the airline industry.