Think back to your last flight on a commercial airline. Was your pilot, and their copilot, male? Chances are, they most likely were. It’s quite rare to fly with a female pilot in the cockpit, and far more common to find women serving as flight attendants on each and every flight. There are many women who work in the airline industry, from positions within individual airports to hopping from plane to plane as a flight attendant. Yet what is it that makes a female pilot such a rare sight to see when traveling, especially on commercial flights?
Female pilots have been flying for quite some time – Helen Richey was the very first female pilot of a commercial plane nearly 80 years ago – but they certainly haven’t come to dominate the profession or the industry. Only five percent of the 53,000 pilots who are members of the Air Line Pilots Association are women, in this organization which represents pilots for major airlines in both the U.S. and Canada. And just 450 women act as airline captains, the supervising pilots of a plane, internationally. These numbers are dramatically low, but why so?
One reason is that many women find the profession of a pilot unattractive is because it’s an expensive and difficult path to pursue. In order to earn a pilot’s license, especially for a commercial plane, individuals must spend significant amounts of money and time in order to achieve all necessary training. Once pilot certifications have been earned, continuous training is required throughout the duration of a pilot’s career.
Additionally, working as a pilot isn’t a profession that allows for great lengths of time at home. Women often dislike the demands of flying commercial airliners because the position of a pilot requires them to leave home frequently, taking them from their roles within their individual families. Challenging, demanding, and ever-changing, working as a pilot comes with many unique responsibilities.
Finally, some sociologists have found that women tend to consider becoming pilots only if they have been introduced to the possibility of flying at a young age. Typically, young girls believe that working as pilot is dangerous and too difficult, which leads them to consider other careers. However, those who grew up with pilots in their families, or who found a love of flying early on, were far more likely to actually attempt to become a pilot.
So, although the number of female pilots in the world of commercial flight is far and few between, there are many factors that cause this to be the case. An entirely different job than so many others, life as a pilot comes with unusual demands.