One of my dreams has
always been to learn to fly. Joy Finnigan, a family friend, has inspired me with her achievements.
She has become successful in aviation, a field often thought to belong to
What is your profession?
I am a
pilot and fly for a new airline. I fly DC-9s. I am a first officer, hoping to upgrade to captain
within a year.
Where are some of the places your career takes
I fly to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and Washington, D. C.
right now, and am hoping to expand to other destinations, possibly Chicago and
How much are you away from home on a
I have a terrific schedule because I am based in
Dallas, which is the hub for the airline. I am able to bid for a schedule that keeps me home
every night, so I fly 13 or 14 days a month. It's
Are there many female
I've heard that less than five percent of pilots are women.
That holds true at the airline I work for.
any advantages or disadvantages of being a female pilot?
When I was a
flight instructor, I think I had an advantage since male students were less afraid to ask questions
of a woman or appear as if they didn't know much than if they had a guy instructor. I think they
want to feel all macho and knowledgeable when they are with a guy, but when they were with me they
would say stuff like, 'Hey, Joy, I don't get this, I don't understand. Tell me again why we are
doing this. '
As for being an airline pilot, the advantages are few and
far between. I would say the disadvantages are that to achieve as much as a man in this profession,
you have to work twice as hard. So many people still have the mindset that only men can do certain
jobs. You have to work hard to overcome that.
Have you ever
been discriminated against because you are a woman?
It has happened. I
do know that I was denied a job because I am a woman. The president of the company said he didn't
want to have a woman in the position I was applying for. But incidents like that have been pretty
in frequent for me.
When did you know you wanted to be a
I read a book about flying when I was in tenth grade by Anne
Morrow Lindberg called North to the Orient, about she and her husband, Charles Lindberg, flying to
Asia to map routes for an airline. It was such an amazing book, and such a journey they took, that I
thought, What a life that would be - to have adventures and fly airplanes and do that kind of thing
for a living. I said to my dad, 'I think I'd like to learn to fly. ' He was really supportive and
took me to a local airport and signed me up for lessons.
did you get to be where you are today?
There are two routes you can
take to become a professional pilot. One is the military. The other is the civilian route. I went
to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, a four-year college that integrates learning to fly with a
degree. Once I graduated I taught as a flight instructor there for two years. I was able to gain a
lot of experience, and with pilots it is all based on how many flight hours you have. From Embry
Riddle I got a job as a charter pilot. I gained more experience there at a higher level because I
was flying multi-engine aircraft. I even flew jet aircraft. Then I went to the commuter airlines and
now to this new airline.
What would you say to young women
who have a passion for aviation?
To pursue a career in aviation
you need to study and learn and be the best that you can be. So when people are thinking about who
would be the best person for this job there will be no question.
Do you think all your work has paid
I do, because I have a fabulous job where I am able to balance my
work and family life, which is very important to me. My schedule allows me to do things a lot
of working moms can't. Because I have days off during the week, I can volunteer at school and get my
kids to their activities, whereas if I had a regular 9 to 5 job I
What do you like and dislike most about
The thing I like most is that it's always challenging
and interesting. I get to see a lot of things others don't. I'll give you an example- St. Elmo's
Fire, which is a build-up of static electricity on the aircraft. It happens a lot when you are
flying in or around thunderstorms. It makes the airplane glow, and it's really amazing. I have seen
gorgeous moonrises over a high cloud deck, and I have seen Saturn and Jupiter rise from the air,
which is an awesome sight.
I guess what I dislike is that sometimes my
schedule requires me to get up extremely early. That is probably the worst thing. Of course, there
is some unpredictability. I could end up in L. A. with a mechanical problem and be forced to spend
the night. That's not fun.
Have you had any close calls while
in the cockpit?
Yes, I flew with a pilot once who turned out to be
very ill. While we were flying he sort of blacked out. At the moment it happened I was not aware
that he was out of it and the airplane was flying itself. By the time I realized what was
happening, we were getting slow in our air speed. I realized it, added power and recovered, but it
was kind of a close call.
As far as careers go, aviation and flying are very exciting.
If you are going to pursue it, make sure you really love it because it can be a very difficult
career path. It is also hard to balance family and work at the beginning. Once you've made the
airlines, it's pretty great. But the early years are
Interviewing Joy really made me realize that any
career is possible if you work hard enough at it. She continues to inspire
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.