All in the Family: Flying Copilot in Utero

By F/O Caitrin Doherty-Powell (Compass)
F/O Caitrin Doherty-Powell (Compass), center, poses with her parents, Capt. John Doherty (Northwest, Ret.) and Capt. Dianne Powell (Delta).

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When people ask me when I first started flying, I often joke that I logged my first hours when my mom was pregnant with me, flying copilot on the B-757 for Northwest Airlines. Although I didn’t take my first flight lesson until the fall of 2013, aviation has been in my life for as long as I can remember.

My mother, Dianne Powell, is currently a captain on the B-757/767 out of New York flying for Delta Air Lines, and my father, John Doherty, retired from Northwest in 2003 as a captain on the B-747-400. Between the two of them, there has always been an endless stream of stories, jokes, advice, and wisdom.

As a kid, I remember being at the dinner table with my family, listening to my parents talk in standard aviation lingo about the airline industry and their flying experiences. I was astounded that anyone could understand what they were saying because as a child most of it was gibberish to me, and I know that many adults outside of the aviation industry feel the same way. My parents would often burst into laughter recounting their stories, and my brother and I would look at each other with confusion and disbelief that anyone could understand what they were talking about.

Some of my earliest airline memories are of standby travel. In 1996—when I was four years old and my younger brother, Sean, was almost one—my family was nonreving from Orlando, Fla., back home to Minneapolis, Minn., after a family vacation, and the flights were packed. There was one seat left on the plane, and since my mother had a trip the next day, that seat went to her and my brother, who was allowed to sit on her lap. As a four-year-old, I took this as a terrible slight from my mother, who apparently loved my little brother more than me!

I stood at the top of the jetway as my mom walked to the airplane with my brother in tow screaming with tears streaming down my face, “Take me instead! Take me!” Despite this traumatic standby incident, I experienced amazing trips. Over the years, my family would visit Chile, Ireland, London, Paris, Australia, Cancun, British Columbia, the Caribbean, and nearly every state in the United States.

Any pilot will tell you how unique the industry is. And despite the challenges that come with it, I’m so grateful that I get to share this passion with my parents. They’ve guided me every step of the way, and in 2016 I was hired by Compass Airlines flying E175s.

When talking about aviation with my parents nowadays, I often think about their dinnertime conversations that confused me and my brother. But now it’s just my brother who has no idea what’s going on when we burst into laughter at the end of a story! 

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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