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All-Female Flight Crew From United Airlines Takes Delivery Of New Boeing 737

The women pilots, crew and passengers on United's new Boeing 737

Even in this day and age, aviation is a male-dominated industry. But when Boeing delivered a new 737-900ER to United Airlines on Wednesday at King County International Airport, men were the ones in the minority – by design.

United Airlines wanted to do something special to recognize women throughout the company. So they decided to bring an all-women crew to Seattle to pick up the new plane and fly it back to Chicago with female employees from United as passengers. No males on board. As one person quipped on Twitter, it was an “unmanned flight.”

Boeing sales executive Michelle Gross handed over the ceremonial keys to Captain Kimberly Noakes.

“Captain Kim, you don’t need these keys to start your baby, do you?” Gross joked. 

People were in a good mood. But at the same time, there was a recognition of the reasons why such an event is needed – women still can find it hard to break into certain careers such as commercial flying.

When First Officer Jan Lumbrazo was asked what’s changed since she became a pilot 15 years ago, she spoke with candor.

How To Help More Women Become Pilots

“Honestly it hasn’t changed too much, which is I do believe a little bit of a sad story,” she said. “I think that we’re trying to get more women involved in aviation. I think it’s a process where we need to start at a younger age, not necessarily wait till high school or college, that we need to start in grade school and tell them that it is a viable career option and that they can do it.”

Credit Ashley Gross / KPLU
United Airlines First Officer Jan Lumbrazo

About 6.4 percent of commercial airplane pilots in the U.S. are women. Lumbrazo says most of the time, she gets positive reactions from passengers.

“I get surprise, I get cheers, I get high fives, I get some, `We had two girls up there?’ kind of comments occasionally,” she said.

At a previous airline, she once even had a guy walk off the plane when he saw that there were two women pilots.

“I said, `That’s totally your right, you know? Here’s the door,’” she recalled. “`Thank you for flying with us, or not flying with us. Have a great day.’ You know, you can’t change those people’s perceptions.”

But Lumbrazo says that’s rare and she doesn’t let it get to her. She’s just glad she persevered in this career.

“I can’t imagine doing any other job,” Lumbrazo said. “This has been my dream job since I was 8 years old and I get to do it, and you get up there, it’s the best view in the world.”

Then she climbs aboard and settles into the cockpit to get that front window view – the one she says is best. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.