Mothering and the Piloting Profession

Our Family Assistance Working Group asked some of its members about life as both a mother and a working airline pilot. The group also asked others how the mothers in their lives have impacted their lives and careers, as well as how the industry can continue to support mothers or pilots supporting motherhood.


Here’s what they had to say.


Capt. Sara Baer (Alaska)

I love being an ALPA member as well as a mom because I know I have a group of pilots and staff working to improve our lives professionally and personally every day, and we have so many resources to help. 


One way the industry can better support mothers is by improving parental leave and pay for all, as well as find more flexible solutions like part-time lines for caregivers. 


My company was great about maternity leave when I was out with each of my children. I was asked when I wanted to come back, and that was it. No pressure to return early, or guilt about being out. Our parental leave policy has also improved in this contract cycle.


The Family Assistance Working Group is so important to shape policies and bring awareness around better work/life balance. To attract a more diverse pilot group, we need to have better support for parents and families. 


Capt. Adam Bradley (Delta)

I spent 13 years at a nonunion carrier. I have been at Delta for five and a half years, and our life as an airline family is so much better at an ALPA carrier. The solid foundation of a legally binding contract, a real retirement, better pay, better insurance, and better travel benefits all help in making my family’s life better. My family is better off working under a contract; that peace of mind is invaluable.


My wife needs to know that my job is protected. My family needs to know that I have a retirement that is meaningful. My kids need to know that I go to work at a safe, reliable airline, and will come home safely. Knowing that ALPA is fighting for those things helps our family and supports my wife.


ALPA cares about me and my family. Pilots are a commodity. ALPA takes care of us on a one-on-one basis and that helps my family. My wife knows that we have committees that support us and help me when needed, and that matters to us.


Family is everything. There are so many kinds of families and family needs. Having a working group whose sole focus is the family further shows how ALPA cares about the individual. I support this working group and am excited about the services they will provide to me and my family.


This week is our 24thwedding anniversary. We were married when we were 22 years old; I didn’t even have my private pilot’s license yet. My wife, Melissa, caught the vision of an airline career right alongside of me. We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into, but she has been there through thick and thin. There is no way I would be a Delta captain without her support from day one. We have three kids, and she was able to stop working when the oldest was four. My ability to support the family and allow her to fulfill our dream of her being a stay-at-home mom was a life goal we made when we were both working two to three jobs just to get by. I cannot overstate how important her dedication and support to my career has been. It’s not always easy, but we do our best to work as a team to make the dream real.


Capt. Alison Britton (Delta)

Throughout my 15-year career in the airline industry, I have experienced both non-ALPA membership at an air carrier and being an ALPA member. In my short time at Delta, I have seen ALPA truly advocate for female pilots and maternity benefits, but also for their families. ALPA is recognizing the importance of supporting families and motherhood.


The biggest support the industry could provide is recognition that as pilots we not only financially provide for our families but also need to care for them. We still have a long way to go in educating leaders and decision makers that pilots who are also moms require different needs. I have been advocating for pilots who are also moms and for maternity benefits for eight years and have seen a slight improvement, but we still have more to achieve.


This is why the Family Assistance Working Group is so important, because it will advocate for not only improvements to maternity and pumping benefits but for the uniqueness of all family dynamics. The working group will provide support to every ALPA member at least one point in their career as their family needs evolve and change.


Capt. Aaron Klehr (Delta)

I want to thank my wife for really letting me live my dream of being an airline pilot. Yes, she grew up with a dad that traveled a lot too, but wow! Whether it’s taking care of a sick kid, or me not being home for holidays, she’s always making the right decision and taking care of issues when I’m not available to help because I’m on the road. Thank you for being such a great wife and mother to our two boys now of 23 years.


Being in the aviation industry and a member of ALPA for 22 years, I’ve seen ALPA resources grow for family members and the fight for mothers’ benefits. An example of this is the battle for paid time off when having a baby for female pilots.”


We need to keep the fight going. For example, why is it dependent on state law that if your child gets sick you can’t use your sick benefits? Then it puts all the stress and sick time on the spouse. This is a very common benefit in most industries, but not in the airline industry. 


I think the airline industry, ALPA, and government have made great strides in supporting families in the past 20 years. With the travel, stresses, and pressures our occupation puts on not only the employee, but also the family, I think it has gotten better. I like how the union and Company constantly ask and provide help when family needs arise. That is why it is so important that we have the Family Assistance Working Group. I think a lot of times when this happens in our immediate family, we think that we are alone. When you call the Family Assistance Working Group, or are referred to them, you find that you’re not alone and you have a lot of resources that are available to you and they will help through the whole process. This takes a lot of stress off your plate and lets you put your focus on your family’s needs.


Capt. Jon Pearson (Delta)

Being an ALPA member means that the union should be able to support mothers and look for policies and agreements with the Company that would strengthen that role. For years I think this career was one that people felt it impossible to be a mother and a pilot, and that’s one reason it has been predominately male. As a male pilot, I have zero issues with policies that would strengthen a mother’s ability to do the job that would do nothing for me personally. Long story short, I feel the mothers among us should feel supported by their union.


Our sick-time policies need to change to better support the role of mothers, fathers, and caregivers. Our sick time is viewed as something only to be used when sick. It should be better utilized for situations such as caring for a sick child, parent, spouse, or other family member. Not only that but also for a family emergency. A paid time off system rather than just sick time would better support these needs. Too many times I feel pilots are balancing their needs to bring in a paycheck and care for things at home. Under the current sick-time system, punitive action could be taken for using sick time for anything other than sick. A paid time off system that could be used for multiple family needs would support these roles much better. A pilot should never need to choose between a paycheck and caring for their family.


The way our industry supports mothers is better than it used to be, but still needs some work. I would like to see more efforts to support parents and caregivers. I know that at Delta we have often felt supported with time off as needed in family situations or emergencies, but often at the expense of pay. A PTO system rather than strictly sick would help fix that. 


It helps to know that your union recognizes the challenges of being a pilot and having a family. It is not always an easy lifestyle. Having a Family Assistance Working Group shows there is support available when it is needed. 

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