2009: The First Black Female Flight Crew

CLT 1-31-09 N185UW
On Thursday, February 12, 2009 history was made when an all African American flight (ASA) crew departed Atlanta. Get this, all of the crew, from the pilot and first officer to the two flight attendants serving in the cabin all were African American and all were female! It only took a century of flying in this country (Creative Commons License photo credit: James Willamor).

During my years working as a flight attendant, this never happened at my airline. As a matter of fact, I can recall easily the number of African American flight crew that I flew with over a five year period. The pilots of color were usually minimal and on the occasion that they would board the aircraft they were usually males. What is interesting here is that as I would stand along with the pilots at the front of the aircraft, it would never fail that several passengers would question how long they’d been flying and would amazingly ask if they were truly qualified to fly the aircraft.

Aviation has historically been a field dominated by whites, specifically white males. The exclusion often faced by people of color is continually evident in the airline industry. The fact that it is 2009 is suggestive of how systemic both sexism and racism is in this and many other industries. Seeing these African American women take flight is indeed long overdue. Let us now hope that a barrier is being broken and a path is being carved for others wishing to break into the airline industry. Please join me in looking forward to seeing many others when we board our next flight.

Comments

  1. Ed McNames

    I don’t think the lack of black and female pilots is due (directly) to racism; one must have have the hours and certifications to be hired by any flight department.
    I would definitely agree that the lingering effects of slavery/racism has left this industry w/out a percentage of minority pilots/crew on par w/ numbers in other industries. Hopefully this is being overcome. I am an instrument rated private pilot and I love it when I see women in the flight crew as they were in aviation since the beginning. And if they are of color then that makes me feel all the better as I can only imagine the hurdles they might have had to overcome. Oh, and I’m white.

  2. Lou Author

    Hi Ed. You are right; it is wonderful to see women of any color in the cockpit. As a woman, this was very refreshing and encouraging to see. When I mention racism and sexism, I mention it in terms of the lasting effects that we are still seeing because of the historic exclusion women have faced when attempting to penetrate certain industries (not only this industry but many others as well). I too hope that this is being overcome. We shall see!

  3. Cassandra Johnson

    Ed, I understand that you are coming from a good place, but your statement “one must have have the hours and certifications to be hired by any flight department.” doesn’t negate that it is highly probable that racism is a factor.

    By your own admission, women (and people of color) have been involved in aviation since it’s inception.

    If all they need were hours and certification why is it only now in 2009 that this event has occurred?

    Surely there have been more than a handful of women and people of color that wanted to be pilots before now?

    The timing is the indicator of the inherent, subversive discrimination at play.

    I don’t want to detract from your well wishes, I applaud you for that, I just wanted to possibly help you see that racism and sexism are prohibitive in not so obvious ways but TIMING of events like this are typically good indicators of even the most subversive remnants of racism/sexism

  4. Vivian Stovall-Appling

    Well, Ed, if you can imagine the “hurdles” African American women (and men, for that matter) must have had to overcome, then I’m sure you must recognize that racism has played a large part in setting those barriers in place. When I got out of college some thirty years ago with a degree in French, I wanted very much to become a “stewardess,” as they were called in those days, preferably on international flights. A close friend of mine, of Greek extraction, applied at the same time. She was chosen and, for no apparent good reason, I was rejected. My late uncle, who had always dreamed of flying as a young boy, managed in the late 40′s and 50′s, through strong proclivity and sheer perseverance to become an instrument rated pilot, just like yourself, but was never allowed to fly commercially. Undeterred, he started his own freight air service at Midway Airport in Chicago and in that way carved out a successful flying career. His name was Emmett Stovall. And he, as am I, was a proud African American. He would be elated to know of this crew of young African American women and, personally, I couldn’t be prouder or more encouraging of them, wishing them every Godspeed!

  5. Deb Dugan

    I do agree that this is a historic moment. However, I challenge any one of you to tell me when there has been an “all white all female ASA crew” EVER in the history of the airline. If it HAS happened, we don’t know about it. Why is that?

  6. Seattle in Texas

    Good god. There’s been more than plenty of all white co-ed flight crews…. Why does the question ask specifically, “all white all female ASA crew”? Why aren’t Black, Latino, Asian, and other women included in the idea of an “all female crew”? I imagine that “all white all female ASA crew” would only fly and serve white patrons too…. *yawn* Bizzarre.

  7. Aisha Nicole

    As an African American female pilot at a major airline, I felt it was my duty to weigh in on this subject. Before making it to where I am today I was a captain at Mesa airlines, and there were only a few of us (women of color) in the business. Like in any industry as a female you are initially judged before you even begin your job. But, for the most part the professionals in this business would never show any hatred directly toward us. I think for the most part the few men that are offended by us being there are insecure by their own manhood. However, their small numbers are less of an obstacle than we are to ourselves. Many women of color ask me how I got to this level and talk about doing it themselves but so few of them actually pursue it. The ones that do, rarely stick to it. To keep becoming a better pilot you have to constantly be evaluated throughout your career, and for many women taking tough critique is too much to bear. But every few months we are put through the ringer (practicing emergencies) and this what every pilot has to go though. Plain and simple you have to have thick skin to “stay alive” in this business, and racism pails in comparison to what you go though just to become a well trained pilot.

  8. Shanedria M. Ridley

    Dear fellow bloggers…Thank you for your comments. I am preparing to write a poetic tribute to the first all black female crew before I board an aircraft this evening. Your soul-stirring comments are inspiring me to write the best poem that I can. God Bless you all…And God Bless AMERICA!!!

  9. lou

    Shanedria, it would be great if you could provide a link for us all to take a look at your poem when you are done. I know many of the readers here would be interested in reading it.

  10. Princess K

    Hello all. Being an a young female african pilot I am so proud to read about these women. I can readily say that even as i am training i am not only dealing with sexism i’m dealing with the still very alive apartheid mentality of south africa. I get tingles all over my body when i picture them sitting in the cockpit calling out the last checks on final approach! With the american industry i can only imagine there is still so much work to do in terms of recruiting more minorities and the works, but imagine where we africans are. still having to deal with so much oppression on our mother land. We only make less than 5% of this industry which here is still very dominated by the white male. I’m hopeful though.And reading this article has added fire to soul. With God, all things are possible.. Even a flight crew of all black chicks :)

  11. notone

    When I flew for Kimball International I was taxing out with the chief pilot at Kansas City. He Was PIC. He looked over and said “that’s something you don’t see every day”. Looking over trying to figure out what he was talking about, he said, the black guy in the King Air. You just don’t see many pilots in corporate aviation. Then he said “they have no business being in corporate aviation”.

    I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that type of mentality still existed.

  12. jwalls

    If Kimball international ignores racism and antisemitism then Kimball endorses racism and antisemitism.

    Do you have other information to support the incident?

  13. notone

    To some degree yes. When you think back over the last couple years when you drive to work, what are the drives that you remember? Do you remember driving work 1 year ago today? If nothing happened, probably not. If something happened then you remember. There are probably a half dozen drives which stand out due to an incident which happened.

    I remember this trip because of this incident. I had been to MKC a few times before but this is the only one I specifically remember; and I remember it because what he said was so appalling. I had only been there once with him so it is easy to pinpoint the date.

    We were waiting to leave the ramp. A King air, 200 or 300 or 350 was coming in. We had to hold for him to come in. The chief pilot was on the side of the plane passing the King Air. I was doing other copilot duties when he pointed him out and said “Blacks have no business in corporate aviation”.

    I really did not know what to say. He had made it clear several times my job would be in jeopardy if I had much to say about anything; that I was just to sit there and nod yes to what ever he says.

    This was not an off color joke, this was a statement of position by a person in the Kimball Management!

    Ironically he was one of the smoothest pilots I had ever flown with, however, he was one of the most “lost” pilots I have ever seen when problems arose. I frankly would have felt better flying with the pilot in the King Air! I would not be comfortably with him flying my family anywhere.

    But this was the problem at Kimball; there was no avenue to discuss things which were illegal, unsafe or just plain wrong. If you tried then you were the problem.

    With the help of a organization or lawyer it would be easy to find the 2 airplanes crossing paths at that time and locate the black pilot who was the target of his racism. Kimball would have no trouble verifying it if they were really interested in the truth; but from what I have seen I think they would be worried more about the noise then the truth. I for one would testify under oath that this is true!

    Do I have a recording? No. Do I have enough proof that anyone with a reasonable mind would understand?; of course.

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