Aviation stories

Do passengers react differently to a female pilot?

To work in the flight deck, means to work in a male dominant environment. Over the last few years, more and more women have joined as pilots, also at the airline I work for. My colleagues and myself react to this with nothing but enthusiasm. Male or female, the consensus is: gender does not matter in judging one’s abilities to operate an aircraft. However, as female pilots we are still a rare species.

 

When passengers notice that it is a female pilot taking them to their destination, they often react to this. My experience is that their reaction is usually very positive: I get smiles, thumbs up, generally a surprised look followed by a smile. They ask if they can take a picture, or make a little smalltalk. I am used that people don’t react indifferent when they see me in my uniform, even when walking in the terminal. They will usually give a second look, point, smile, or look a little surprised.

Standing out

When you stand out, in this case by statistics, this naturally triggers a reaction. The encouragement and surprised-but-positive reactions give a daily boost. But sometimes, the reaction is a not so positive one. When I decided to write about this topic, despite all positive experiences, a particular situation came to mind:

‘Ehm. That is not the pilot, is she?’ ‘You? Pilot? You have got to be joking! This does not feel right. Tell me, do you even know the left from your right?’

I am in the flight deck, we are on the ground in the turnaround. This is the time on the ground, when the passengers of the flight we just completed are at their destination, and disembark. We prepare the next flight, while new passengers board the aircraft, and we will take them to their destination. As flight crew we complete the necessary paperwork, check the weather for the whole route, decide on the fuel that we order, prepare the departure, discuss how we will fly, what specialties we have to take into account for this particular flight, and then do the checklist to see if all that had to be done, is done.

Welcome on board

After all the preparations in the flightdeck, I get out of my seat to make myself a cup of coffee in the front galley. Passengers are still boarding. I get a smile, I nod and smile back. While I pour some hot water into my coffee mug, I hear a female passenger that just got on board of our airplane, ask to the purser: ‘Ehm. That is not the pilot, is she?’ Surprised I look in her direction, and we catch each other’s eyes. I reply: ‘Yes, she is the pilot, how are you madame?’ The woman looks somewhat confused, but smiles and shrugs.

Then a big man, who got on the airplane together with this woman, takes a little step forward. I am still standing in the galley. He turns in my direction: ‘You? Pilot? You have got to be joking! This does not feel right. Tell me, do you even know the left from your right?’

Male chauvinist

In my head, there is a brief moment of short circuit: This rude, middle aged man, standing in front of me, towering over me, staring at me. Left from right? Does this man have a daughter? Then how did he raise her, with what values and beliefs, and has he taught her dignity and self-respect? Where he gets the nerve..? Ah well, quick now, he is actually waiting for an answer:

‘Left, right? Who needs to know about that? I got my pilot license when I found it in a pack of cornflakes. Enjoy your flight sir.’

I nod and smile, and walk back into the flight deck.

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8 Comments

  • Reply Claudio April 13, 2017 at 16:45

    Hi Eva,
    congratulations for your website as first.

    I am often wondering the real reason why not many women work as pilots or, even, choose to study as one. In my flight school there are only three girls in 100+ students. Why do you think is that? As a girl, do you think you had harder times to get to the right seat comparing to a guy with a comparable skill level?
    Thank you

    • Reply Eva April 13, 2017 at 21:26

      Hi Claudio!
      I think this low percentage of women is because of two things:
      1) We grow up in a society where we think of certain professions as ‘male’ or ‘female’. When young girls are never exposed to female pilots in the flight deck, then they pick different role models, in other professions. The idea to choose for a career as an airline pilot simply does not occur to a lot of girls. I get a lot of messages from aspiring female pilots, because I am out there as a female pilot, and it is in our nature to be inspired by someone of our own gender. When more women join the flight deck, more women will become role models for the next generations.
      2) It is not the most convenient job to have a stable (family) life. It is unstable in terms of roster, where you live, when you are home… I know a lot of my female friends prefer a job themselves where they can be home and enjoy family life. (Cabin crew members have the same unstable life, but then I refer back to point 1 ;))
      Your second question: I personally don’t think it was harder to get to the right seat as a girl; at my assessment there were 5 guys and myself. We all had the same experience level, and all 6 of us were desperate to have a job after a few years of job hunting. Still I was the only one that got hired that day.

      • Reply Claudio April 18, 2017 at 17:48

        I agree with your points and I find them realistic and pragmatic. So as a ‘role model’ you must feel some pressure. If yes, how do you cope with that?

        • Reply Eva April 19, 2017 at 03:52

          As a ‘role model’ I feel no more pressure than the pressure I feel to be a good person 😉 I just try to be approachable and give the best advice I can.

  • Reply Chenglin April 15, 2017 at 10:24

    There will always be smallminded people! Just by proving them wrong you’re already making a huge change! Proud of you!

  • Reply Ruari Allen June 17, 2017 at 09:30

    Just want to say theres nothing wrong with female pilots and think u do a great job really proud of u and love to meet u and would be awesome if there was 2 female pilots on plane and u allowed to get up to use the toilet while flying on long flights

  • Reply Aart August 11, 2017 at 18:26

    Lekker blijven doen waar je zin in hebt.
    Plezier in je werk hebben is de beste motivatie zeg ik altijd maar

  • Reply Barby October 23, 2017 at 14:08

    I can believe those comments! We are in the XXI century people!!! Don’t listen to them! I would love to fly with you! Greetings from Argentina! Xoxo

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