Updated: Jun 24, 2020
"An airline pilot…how did you get into that career?" That is by far the most common question I get asked. In fact, I had somebody ask me this just the other day. It has a simple answer: I decided I wanted to do it, so I did it. But I didn’t become an airline pilot overnight. It took years of studying and hundreds of hours of flying. I know many people wonder what it takes, so here is a glimpse into my experience of becoming an airline pilot.
When I was 17 years old, I found out that girls could be pilots. I’d always thought flying was cool and traveling sounded fun, but up to that point, it never occurred to me that I could be a pilot.
I was 18 the first time I stepped foot on an airplane, and it is a day I will never forget. The feeling of freedom I got when that jet airplane took flight is one that has stuck with me even after all these years. I knew at that moment that I was going to be a pilot, and there was nothing and nobody that could change my mind.
A few months after that first flight, I started my flight training. I thought my instructor would just fly me around that day, but he let me take the controls and fly wherever I wanted to. An hour of pure joy- I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I was excited about aviation before this day, but flying that little 2-seater airplane for the fist time solidified that. I was hooked.
A few weeks after that was my next big moment in aviation: my first solo. I had less than 20 hours, but my instructor said I was ready. You think letting your teenagers drive a car at 16 is scary? Think of letting them fly an airplane solo when they are only 18! But I wasn’t nervous- I was excited. And it was exhilarating- landing and taking off that airplane all by myself. Who’d have thought that me, of all people, would be able to do something so incredible? I had found my wings!
Time flew by quickly over the next three years. I earned my Private Pilot’s License, Instrument Rating, Multi Engine License, Commercial License, and then my Flight Instructor Certificate.
I only needed 250 hours to get my commercial license, but no airline can or would hire a pilot with such littler hours, so I decided to become a flight instructor to build my time. Talk about a fun/scary/adventure of a job that was! I had to be on my A-Game 100% of the time because students are unpredictable. After years of flight instructing I had enough hours to apply for the airlines. Not an international major airline, but a regional airline that does the shorter flights for the majors- the small jets.
A new job is always intimidating, but starting a new job at the airlines brought that intimidation factor to a whole new level for me. I went from flying a 1,200 pound airplane to a 26,000 pound airplane; from flying around 1- 3 people to up to 30 passengers. It was a huge jump, but one I will never regret.
Initial training at the airlines was about 3 months long, and I felt like there was still so much for me to learn once I completed it. There was a month of ground training, about a month of simulator training, and a month of training in the airplane.
I remember feeling like such an imposter on my first day of work at the airlines. But, as I have learned, I acted like I knew exactly what I was doing- like I was a seasoned pilot just going through security for the millionth time- and walked through the airport with confidence.
I'm not sure what I'm doing with my hand here, but this was my very first flight on that plane, and I was a bit out of my comfort zone. Don't judge me! ;)
However, it was the most nerve-racking/exciting day for me. I flew a commercial airplane with actual passengers all over the west coast. Wow! That first 4-day trip went by in a blink of an eye. I flew with the most fantastic crew, and had the time of my life. That was the beginning of my airline career, and a trip I will forever remember.
Maybe I don’t look like the traditional pilot, but on the inside, I am just like the rest. Becoming an airline pilot was certainly not the easiest career for me to choose, but it has been the most rewarding. So why did I get into this career? Because I was born to fly!