Female Pilots

Q: I fly fairly often but I rarely come across female airline pilots. What discourages women from becoming pilots, and is there a culture within the industry that keeps women from flying for the airlines?

I’m unsure what discourages women from becoming pilots in equal number with men, though I suspect they are the same things that discourage them from other male-dominated roles.

That said, I have flown with women pilots both as captain and first officer dozens of times. There are many female airline pilots, to the point where the hiring practices at some airlines have bred resentment among some of their male counterparts. Women are sometimes accepted with fewer qualifications than competing males, which while not necessarily unsafe (all candidates meet minimum requirements and must endure the same training), seems unfair to a male pilot who has struggled to land a job, only to be passed over for someone with a fraction of his experience. This is no different in the controversy department, I suppose, than in various other fields. Certain airlines are more well known (perhaps “notorious” is the right word, depending which disgruntled pilot you’re talking to), for recruitment of women aviators than others.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.