Perhaps the pilot taking you to your next destination is Kathi Durst.
The first time Durst flew a plane in the U.S. Air Force Academy she got really sick. The youngest of three daughters, Durst always dreamed about flying planes. Growing up as an “Air Force brat” in South Carolina to a Korean and Vietnam War fighter pilot father, she was always exposed to aviation and traveling. “I would go to air shows and always wanted to be a pilot but women couldn’t join the Air Force then,” she says. During her junior year as a biology major in high school, she decided that she wanted to fly planes.
It wasn’t until 1976 that female pilot training was allowed in the U.S. Air Force Academy. She says she experienced minor hazing from male students but that she was always accepted. “Men always respected me but you can’t change people’s perceptions,” she says. She graduated in 1981 as part of the second admitted class of female aviators and spent her seven-year Air Force career flying the Northrop T-38 Talon aircraft at Williams Air Force Base.
Her transition to the civilian world was seamless, she says. Since joining American Airlines in 1988, Durst has gone up in the ranks and is now Fleet Captain of the Boeing 737. Durst oversees 217 Boeing 737s and the 2,500 pilots at American that fly that jet.
“At first I didn’t want to take my current job. All eyes are on you to see if you can get the job done,” she says. She’s currently in charge of writing manuals, training, following air directives from the FAA or any changes by the planes manufacturer Boeing. “My job is number 1 the pilots, and second, the books,” she says.
Her first job was flight engineer on the Boeing 727 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10, she then went on to become a first officer on the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 and Boeing 757/767, and a check airman on the Boeing’s 727, 737, 757/767, and the Airbus A-300.
There are 123,705 male commercial airline pilots and they vastly outnumber women in the field. At American Airlines alone there are only 60 female captains.
“Early on during my career at American Airlines there were a lot of men that had never flown with women. I’m hoping that in another 20 years it won’t be an issue,” she says. “When people are deplaning I make sure to open up the door looking for the little girl that’s walking by and I tell the little girl, you can do anything,” something she says her mother always told her.
Durst has a message for veterans. “Any of the veterans that are flying out there, on the ground or on an airplane, hang tough. We thank you for your service. This country forgets that we’re at war but you’re not forgotten and we all appreciate your service.”