On Aug. 8, American Airlines put together a special crew on the ground and in the air for a historic flight from Texas to Arizona. Everyone involved in the flight, which went from Dallas-Fort Worth to Phoenix, from the pilots and flight attendants to the gate and technician crews, were Black women. American Airlines organized the flight as a tribute to Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman to receive a pilot’s license, in 1921.
“She bravely broke down barriers within the world of aviation and paved the path for many to follow,” American Airlines said in an Aug. 19 press release about the historic trip.
American Airlines invited members of the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars to be passengers on the commemorative flight. This group works to continue Coleman’s legacy through promoting STEM programming for students and introducing young people to possible careers in aviation.
The airline hosted Gigi Coleman, CEO and president of the organization, as well as the grandniece of the pioneering pilot, on the flight.
“I am grateful for American Airlines to give us this opportunity to highlight my great aunt’s accomplishments in the field of aviation,” Coleman said in a video posted on the airline’s YouTube Channel.
Dr. Sheila Chamberlain, the organization’s national chair, said that the flight represented everything Bessie Coleman advocated for in her life.
“Her dream has been fulfilled,” Chamberlain said in the video. “From the bottom up, African American women are doing it in the field of aviation and aerospace.”
Unfortunately, organizing such a flight still takes more work than it should, due to the scarcity of women who look like Coleman working in the skies. The airline said it is intentionally trying to boost efforts to include more women of color on the flight deck, with trips like this being used to raise awareness.
“Black women have been notably underrepresented in the aviation industry, especially as pilots, representing less than 1% in the commercial airline industry,” American Airlines said in its press release about the commemorative flight.
Crew members who participated in the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars flight said they were honored to be role models for the younger generation of Black women who are exploring their career options.
“I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the crew where we’re inspiring young girls, young girls of color, to see the various roles that these women play in every aspect to make this flight possible,” said Capt. Beth Powell, the pilot of the flight, in the YouTube clip.
Powell’s career has been impressive in its own right, as she grew up in Jamaica, finished high school at 16 years old and got her pilot’s license before she was 21. She’s been with American Airlines since 2014, starting as a first officer.
To its credit, American Airlines was on the cutting edge when it came to putting women in the cockpit. In 1973, the company became the first major U.S. carrier to hire a woman pilot, Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo. It wasn’t until 1992 that the company had its first Black woman pilot, Brenda Robinson, who also made history with the U.S. Navy.