delta airlines

Karlene Petitt — Flight To Success

Karlene Petitt has an extensive aviation career and has so many credentials to her name. Almost too many to list. From Airbus pilot to author, to PhD student, not to mention a busy grandmother to 7, she is certainly moving at the pace of a jet stream.

We spoke to Karlene about her experiences in what she calls, ‘the best career in the world.’

Where did your passion for flying originate?

My passion began the moment I took my first flight at age 16. This flight occurred because seven years earlier I was playing a game called Careers with my girlfriends. This board game enabled the player to spin a wheel and to land on a career to become a hostess (flight attendant), nurse, librarian, school, teacher or model. We all wanted be hostesses. However, I could not land on the hostess spot, whereas everyone else did. Therefore, I said I was going to be the pilot. One of my girlfriends said, “You can’t be a pilot. Girls can’t be pilots. My dad is a pilot, and he said girls can’t do that.” That was end of our game, and at that moment I decided that I was going to be a pilot. When I asked my mom if I could be a pilot, she said I could be anything I wanted to be.

Can you tell us about learning to fly?

Flying is an incredible feeling somewhat a mixture between calm and excitement at the same time. The most important thing about learning to fly is to know that it’s a continual and lifelong process.


What is your experience of being a female pilot?

Female pilots are the minority, as today we still only represent 6-7% of the pilot population. Being a woman in a male-dominated career may have impacted my career, but perhaps for the better. I always felt that I had to be better than my male counterparts. If a man made a mistake, it was no big deal. But if a woman made a mistake, the error reflected on the entire female population! Women back then had a huge amount of responsibility paving the way. However, striving to be your best is a positive thing, and I somewhat think this is my innate personality. But, there was a great deal of pressure with that kind of scrutiny in the old days.

How do you think the industry will challenge this?

A great way to increase the number of female pilots is to share that first flight with them. This is the reason I host annual flying events. Sharing an experience of any kind can change lives. Changing the challenge of having to be better, that will just naturally come when more female pilots take to the skies.

What do you believe have been the biggest changes in this industry through your career?

The greatest change I have observed is the shift in how we train pilots today versus years ago. Airplanes are becoming extremely automated and the industry has shifted to teaching pilots how to push buttons more so that learning how to fly them or understand how they work. Learning at the airline level is more independent learning and pilots of the future need to be self-learners and need to realize that they need to go search for more information than on their own, than might be provided.

Tell us about your writing!

I enjoy writing many different genres. The inspiration to write has evolved from identifying issues and concerns in the aviation industry and finding a means of information sharing through entertainment. I write to inspire and educate. I write to hopefully make a difference in our world. My inspiration is experiencing life.

Your career is so extensive. What keeps you going?

What keeps me going is to never listen to anyone who tells me I can’t do something, and not listen to any doubt I may feel within myself. We have only one life, and we need to live it strong. Finding courage to follow your path is important.