By Lale Arikoglu. Photos: Courtesy Delta.
Two women made history over the weekend by becoming the first black female pilots to fly together. First Officer Dawn Cook and pilot Stephanie Johnson comprised the entire cockpit of Delta Flight 555, which flew from Detroit to Las Vegas on Sunday, in a move that celebrates both the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month.
The long-overdue occasion wasn’t just the result of fortuitous airline scheduling, either: When Cook discovered that Johnson, Delta’s first female African-American captain, was set to fly out of Detroit, she saw an opportunity to cross a much-needed milestone, suggesting to the pilot that they team up and take the helm. Once in the air, the pair found a few minutes to post a particularly joyous selfie on Facebook to commemorate the flight.
When I was hired by Northwest Airlines, there were 12 African-American women airline pilots in the country at the major airlines, and I knew all of their names.
Though it's been nearly a century since Bessie Coleman became the first African-American woman (and first Native-American woman) to earn a pilot’s license, in 1921, progress remains painfully slow. “I feel a great sense of responsibility to be a positive role model,” Johnson, who was Northwest Airlines’ first black female pilot in 1997, said in an interview with Delta’s news hub. “There are so few women in this profession and too many women who still don’t think of it as a career option. When I was hired by Northwest Airlines, there were 12 African-American women airline pilots in the country at the major airlines, and I knew all of their names.” The pilot also recalled how she knew no pilots growing up, and that she believes she was the first person in her family to graduate college: “For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with airplanes and would think, ‘What a great thing it would be to know how to fly.’”
Johnson and Cook aren’t the only women to kick off Women’s History Month by making their mark on the skies. Air India just broke records by flying around the world with an all-female crew, just in time for International Women’s Day on March 8. (In 1985, the airline became the first to operate a domestic flight with an all-female crew.) Considering we’re only a few days into Women’s History Month, here’s hoping there will be more stories like Johnson and Cook’s that will inspire in the coming weeks.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
More from Conde Nast Traveler: