Some people command your attention, without effort or intention on their part. For the few seconds that it took for her to walk past me, the lady pilot was one of those people.
She was an attractive blond, and tall, and her posture in no way diminished her height. She walked with poise and purpose, chatting and smiling to another pilot in those Navy Blue Delta Airlines Uniforms. The fact that she had four stripes on her shoulder, indicating her Captain’s rank, immediately explained part of her purposefulness. The fact that she was, or appeared, young, in her early to mid-thirties, spelled out her competence, which I sensed immediately. It was doubtful she could have risen so quickly through the ranks unless she excelled at her job.
The fact that she was attractive is not what separated her from the other women in the Atlanta concourse at that same moment. There were lots of pretty girls there. Her bearing was as if she was in Command of a U. S. Navy heavy Cruiser; that’s what separated her from the rest.
As I later sat in a window seat of our Boeing 757 being readied for departure to Pittsburgh, I saw that the blond Captain was indeed in charge of a heavy cruiser; a 757-200 (FAA registered as N604DL) parked beside us. I watched her as she climbed down the steps of the boarding platform and performed her inspection walk around the aircraft she would be commanding. If she is like most pilots, she would also be admiring the beautiful machine she had the good fortune to fly, while thinking about her responsibility for the lives of the passengers who would soon be boarding.
She must have made that walk thousands of time in her career, but every little part of the aircraft visible to her was examined. The fact that most of those parts loomed far above her attested to the size of the aircraft, and made her job more difficult. But she took her time, being fully devoted to her work.
I once asked a Captain and First Officer pair how it was decided who would make the walk around the aircraft. The wise-old Captain said it depended on the weather; and the experienced first officer agreed, smiling broadly. That day in Atlanta the weather was fair, and not too hot, but I got the feeling that lady pilot would do that job regardless of the weather.
As I watched this Delta Captain make her rounds and return up the stairs to her office, the 757 cockpit, I thought that I had just witnessed a nascent cinematic moment. But this pilot was no movie star, in all probability, although I’m sure she could have been, if that had been her ambition.
And then in a three-second flash of irony, I saw her on the video screen no more than 12 inches away from my face. Our 757 crew was playing a video safety brief, and in the closing frames that blond pilot looked back from her left seat in the cockpit of a Delta jet and said with her easy smile, “Welcome to Delta.”
As I later reached my hotel room in Pittsburg, I opened up Flight Aware on my iPad and found that N604DL was nearing its destination of Las Vegas. I smiled, thinking that Delta’s passengers on that flight were willing to gamble on the slots and card tables, but they didn’t have to gamble on their flight. They had an ace in the cockpit.
If you are interested in a career in commercial aviation, you might find a blog posting on the Delta Airlines web site of interest. It’s written by an African-American female who was a copilot for Delta at the time of the writing. It describes how she ended up in the right seat of a major commercial carrier.