Throughout the global airline industry, women make up a mere 5% of commercial pilots. Why, in 2017, is this number still so low? In answer to a question like this, we have seen a handful of airlines try and rectify the data in the hope it will encourage more women to study for their pilot’s license.
Ethiopian Airlines, Royal Brunei, and even the UAE have made news in recent years for their ground-breaking all-female flights. It is interesting to note that some of these airlines are based out of very conservative nations where the idea of women working outside the home, let alone in a male-dominated arena, is a BFD.
The latest airline to join the crew (pun intended!) is Air India, who went the extra mile to make history with their own all-female flight crew. They made a 15,300 km (around 9,500 miles) journey from New Delhi to San Francisco, claiming it is the first airline to make an around-the-world flight with an all-female crew. They have even applied to the Guinness Book of Records for official recognition.
The Boeing 777 aircraft was helmed by a quarter of female pilots, but it wasn’t just the crew on board who represented the ladies. According to a statement made on the Air India Facebook Page, all other staff and personnel involved in the success of the flight were also women.
“These departments included Cockpit crew, Cabin crew, Check-In staff, Doctor, Customer Care Staff, ATC and the entire ground handling from operator to technician, Engineer and flight dispatcher and trimmer. Line operation safety audit was done by Harpreet A De Singh, ED Flight Safety, Air India. This is the first time that this audit was done by a female officer in around the world trip,” it said.
Captains Sunita Narula, Kshamta Bajpai, Indira Singh and Gunjan Aggarwal shared piloting duties on the 15.5 hour long flights. Leading the cabin crew were stewardesses Seema Baberwal and Nishrin Bandulwala, according to The Independent.
This historical flight was made in honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, but Air India are planning to make it a regular occurrence in their forthcoming schedule. They say it is part of their ongoing commitment to “endeavor to encourage women”.
Earlier this year they announced the introduction of female-only seats and rows in a bid to prevent sexual harassment on flights. They are being offered to women who are traveling by themselves.
You might have come across a number of viral stories about women who report being touched inappropriately and non-consensually by male passengers. It has even happened on an Air India flight, as recent as December 2016, where a man moved from his business class seat to economy and groped a woman.
Probably the most viral story was from 2015 when a female passenger filmed and shamed the male seated behind her. She confronted him about how he kept touching her throughout the flight.
She was mad as hell and made sure to raise her voice loud enough so other passengers would understand what she had to put up with during the flight. She even following him with her camera into the airport after disembarking, as he tried to plead with her to stop filming because he started to feel embarrassed.
The groping is shocking enough, but the fact that the man had to be confronted in such an angry manner for him to even realize it was wrong shows how deep the gender inequality runs in certain conservative societies. The notion that on a commercial airline, this young woman was not safe from predatory behavior from a man who had little to no respect that her body was not his to touch.
Air India making specific moves to address and try and alleviate this problem is also what makes this all-female flight more significant. It is not just a one-off stunt, it is part of an overhaul where women can travel in public spaces and feel safe.
“These special seats, which can be availed by such women passengers, will come at no extra cost,” Air India said in a statement.
We hope to see other airlines join Air India in the continued promotion of women in the airline industry, but also in the continual fight against harassment and unwanted advances toward women in public.
“The flight is a symbol of women empowerment and it will encourage women to step out of their comfort zone and succeed in male-dominated arenas too. The entire message is actually to encourage young girls who have dreams of getting into the skies and they feel it’s too technical or this is something only men do,” said Captain Kshamata Bajpayee, according to The Daily Mail, which reported that 20% of the airline’s staff are female.
Gender equality, and fundamentally viewing women as equals, who reserve the right to complete autonomy over their bodies, is where it must start.