Takeoff to Touchdown: A Career at American Airlines
Updated: Jan 20
The Day that Changed My Life
They say everyone has a day in their life when a single action altered the course of their future. Mine was an ordinary day at a shopping mall in 1977. I was a sophomore at the University of Missouri, majoring in Dietetics. I went with friends to the mall to shop, and I noticed a display of airplanes sponsored by the local flying service. There was a box to insert your name to win a flying lesson. Intrigued, I filled out the form and put it in the box, never imagining that I would get a call that evening to find out that my name had been drawn! Needless to say, that was the day that changed my life.
The “intro ride” was in a Cherokee 140. The instructor let me pull back on the yoke as we gently lifted into the air. Houses, railroad tracks, trees, and the entire University campus became like little models. I was hooked! Once we landed, I inquired as to the cost for a Private Pilot License. Yikes! More than a college student could afford! What I could afford was the ground school package, which satisfied my newfound addiction until I was able to save enough waitress tips to afford to take lessons. My instructor told me to fly as often as possible if I wanted to finish in the minimum 40 hours. It took me five weeks to get the license.
Early Career and the Transition to Airline Flying
My new job at the airport, answering the Unicom as well as scheduling flight lessons and charters, gave me a discount on the planes and opportunities for ride-alongs and ferry flights to gain flight hours. I took friends on short trips for lunch and, also, three friends to the Bahamas for Spring Break to build flight time. While finishing college, I worked on my Instrument, Commercial, and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) ratings. With a college degree in hand, I would be more marketable for a flying job in the future.
Shortly thereafter, I began instructing in Kansas City, MO, and started flying charters in single-engine and light-twin aircraft. One day, while getting ready to fly a charter, I was approached by a corporate chief pilot to interview for a flying job out of Washington, D.C. This job gave me the opportunity to fly a turboprop, the Mitsubishi MU-2.
After just over a year at the corporation, I was hired at Scheduled Skyways in Fayetteville, AR. This was a great experience that included working with dispatchers, maintenance, passengers, weight and balance, and LOTS of turboprop flying. This was 1983-1984 and the airlines were starting to hire again after a period of furloughs. I watched as some of my senior pilot colleagues applied and were hired, and many that applied and were rejected. When I flew into Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, I was always in awe of the army of large American Airlines passenger jets taxiing by. To be sitting in the cockpit of one of those would be a dream come true!!
Getting Hired at American Airlines
My best chance of getting hired would be to walk my application and resume directly into the Recruiting Office at American. By that time, I had logged approximately 3,500 hours and met all the requirements for the airlines. So, on a day off, I flew to DFW, took the crew van to the Flight Academy, walked up to the second-floor recruitment office, and handed my resume to the first person I saw there. The secretary was away from her desk at that time. The gentleman who looked over my resume proceeded to the secretary’s desk, opened an appointment book, and asked me if I could come for an interview the following week. Of course, the answer was a resounding “yes!” After three interview phases and two months later, I was scheduled for class at American Airlines and soon would be one of eleven female pilots out of over 4,200 total pilots.
“THROUGH THESE DOORS PASS THE BEST FLIGHT CREWS IN THE WORLD” is the sign over the door to the American Airlines Flight Academy. For the next 35 years, I would pass through those doors hundreds of times! From 727 Flight Engineer, 727 First Officer, 767 First Officer, MD-80 Captain, 777 Captain, to 787 Captain; 35 years have flown by!!
I spent 21 years on the MD-80 as a Captain. I flew a lot of turn arounds while my kids were growing up so that I could be home every night. Once they were grown, I transitioned to international flying on the 777 and, finally, to international flying on the 787. I’ve seen China, Japan, South America, Europe, and lots of North America. I’ve worked with the best flight crews, cabin crews, mechanics, and dispatchers.
Final Flight and Retirement Plans
I took the Voluntary Permanent Leave of Absence offered by American once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, even though I still had two years before mandatory retirement. I had reached the peak of my career and was ready to pass the torch to my daughter, Katie, who is currently on furlough from Envoy Airlines. As it turns out, she was on the jumpseat of my last flight. How cool is that?! You can read Katie’s story at: FlightLife Blog - Academy Flight Training Pathway to Becoming an Airline Pilot.
It literally feels like I stepped into the seat of a Cherokee 140 one day, and the next, I stepped out of the left seat of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner! With over 26,000 hours total time, I have never missed a flight, failed a checkride, received a violation, or bent any metal. I love the sayings, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” and “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
What are my plans for retirement? I’ve seen some beautiful sites from above. Now, I plan to see some of them from ground level in a motorhome that I have on order. My eyes will still go skyward whenever I hear an airplane fly over. Happy trails!
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