April 18, 2021

Women still only make up to 5% of commercial pilots worldwide. Here’s what a typical day looks like for one female pilot.

Women still only make up 5% of commercial pilots worldwide. Here's what a typical day looks like for one female pilot.

Amandine Hivert Vignes in the cockpit Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

Source: Insider

Like most male-dominated careers, we often think of commercial pilots as males, but all over the world, women are flying passengers across continents and oceans. 

Women make up only 7% of commercial pilots in the US, and worldwide, just over 5% of pilots.

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Amandine Hivert Vignes is one of the women changing the flight industry. The 30-year-old is a pilot for a boutique airline, La Compagnie, which is based out of France and specializes in long-haul flights between the New York area and Paris. 

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This Women’s History Month, she spoke to Insider about what a typical day on the job is like and how she’s proud to inspire young girls who see her at work.

Amandine Hivert Vignes started her trip with an eight-hour flight from her home city, Paris, to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, one of New York City’s nearest airports.

Table of Contents

Women commercial pilot : Vignes’ view of Manhattan. Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

The day before Vignes piloted a plane to Paris, she flew to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

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Vignes took off from Paris at 10:30 a.m., landed in New Jersey at 1 p.m. local time, and immediately looked to Manhattan for an adventure. When she landed, she and her crew checked into their hotel and took showers to get ready for their day.

Vignes and the crew headed into Manhattan for a short night out on the town.

commercial pilot: Vignes on the subway. Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

“We’ve been sitting for eight hours, so we like to go for a walk or find a rooftop to enjoy the view of Manhattan,” she said. 

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The night in Manhattan is always cut short because they have to catch up on much-needed sleep.

commercial pilot:: Times Square. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

To fight jet lag, Vignes and the rest of the crew typically go to sleep at 8 p.m., or 2 a.m. Paris time. They also go to sleep early to ensure they are awake for the return flight in the morning. To further combat jet lag, Vignes said she listens to her body instead of the clock.

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“The most experienced pilots try to eat when they’re hungry and go to sleep when they need to sleep,” she said.

The next day, she woke up at 7 a.m. — or 1 p.m. in Paris — and enjoyed brunch in Newark while looking out at the Manhattan skyline.

commercial pilot: Hivert Vignes’ brunch. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

Vignes said if she doesn’t have brunch that day, then she typically goes to the gym at the hotel instead. After that, she and the crew usually take a two- to three-hour nap before they have to leave for the airport to ensure they are alert for the whole flight. 

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Most of Vignes schedule is designed to reduce weariness because flying a commercial plane requires extreme focus and problem-solving. In fact, she can only fly three to four long-haul flights each month to make sure she isn’t overly exhausted. 

After her nap, Vignes got dressed in her pilot’s uniform as commercial pilot and prepared to leave the hotel.

commercial pilot Vignes in her uniform. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

Although Vignes has only been a commercial pilot for a little over a year, she started flying at 14 years old. Her father and grandfather were pilots, so she started flying planes at a young age. 

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Before she got her wings, she trained in the US and France where she was often the only girl in class. She said that didn’t bother her too much, explaining the whole process was “easy.”

“I was just excited to learn to fly and to be with other people who were passionate,” she said. 

At 5 p.m., a shuttle picked up Vignes and the rest of the crew to take them to the airport.

commercial pilot Vignes and a crew member. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

Despite having time to relax and nap, Vignes said she can still feel very tired because of the demanding job and time difference. 

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“You need to take care of yourself because it can be very, very tiring,” she said. “When you do long haul like Paris to New York, that can be the worst thing.”

Once at the airport, Vignes began her flight preparations, which is where big decisions are made.

commercial pilot : Flight preparation. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

At this point, Vignes is tasked with making decisions about the flight. Here, she studied the route, the weather in New York, the weather in Paris, and the fuel levels. Based on all of these factors, Vignes decided the exact route she would take back home and if she’d need more fuel. 

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Vignes and the co-pilot also decide who is going to do what during the flight. Typically, one pilot takes on the role of captain, which is the person who will actually fly the plane, while the other pilot will be in charge of monitoring the weather and the route throughout the flight.

After flight preparations, Vignes went outside and walked around the entire plane to make sure it was safe to fly.

commercial pilot : Outside the plane. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

Although mechanics look over each plane before takeoff, the pilot also does a quality check. Here, Vignes said she examined the wings, the engines, the lights, and the wheels.

“You’re looking to see if everything looks normal,” she said. “It’s the last chance to see anything on the aircraft.”

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After checking the exterior of the plane, Vignes headed to her office: the cockpit.

Vignes aboard the plane. Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

She calls the cockpit “the best office in the world.” 

At this time, the plane began to board its passengers.

commercial pilot : Vignes aboard the plane. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

La Compagnie is a business-class boutique airline, so there are no economy seats. That means there are only 76 passengers on each flight, making the boarding process quite fast. 

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As passengers boarded the plane, Vignes turned to her checklist to make sure the decisions she made earlier were still right.

commercial pilot : Inside the plane. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

“We check the weather in New York, we check if the runway is wet, and we wait for clearance for the departure,” she said. 

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The paper in front of her is the flight plan, which breaks down the entire flight by time. On the sheet, she can check that she is in the right location with the correct amount of fuel at any given time during the flight.  

Vignes said she loves when young girls look into the cockpit and see a woman in the seat.

commercial pilot : Vignes in the cockpit. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

“I’m proud that I can show other young women that it’s possible,” Vignes said. “When you have a girl on the plane, and she looks at the cockpit and sees a woman, she can say, ‘Oh, I can do it. It’s not only boys.’ Yeah, I’m proud.”

At 9:30 p.m., the flight was cleared and Vignes performed one of the hardest parts of being a pilot: taking off.

commercial pilot : Vignes’ view of Manhattan. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

After doing a safety briefing and triple checking that none of the conditions had changed, Vignes said it was time for take-off. Flying out of the New York area is especially difficult because there are planes coming in and out of JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports.

“This is the part where you are very, very concentrated and focused,” she said. “Everything is in English, and we are French, so sometimes we might miss something, so we are very, very focused on the aircraft and the radio. We try sometimes to enjoy the view but we really focus on the aircraft.” 

But once the plane was switched to autopilot, she was able to enjoy the view.

commercial pilot : The view. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

When Vignes isn’t working a commercial flight, she takes every chance she can get to jump in a plane and fly through the clouds. At home, she owns her own plane and flies aerobatics, specializing in flying maneuvers. 

Vignes does all of this because she loves the feeling of flying. 

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“When you jump on your plane, you leave all your problems,” she said. “You clear your mind and you just think about what you are doing. It’s easier when you’re in the sky and your problems are on the ground.”

Despite the freedom, Vignes said passengers would be surprised to learn the cockpit can get really cold.

commercial pilot : Vignes’ heating pads. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

She brings a blanket and heating pads to help keep her warm.

While keeping warm, Vignes still monitored the flight route to ensure safe arrival in Paris.

commercial pilot : Vignes. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

While checking all the factors, Vignes said she must be simultaneously developing different plans and alternative routes in case of emergencies. 

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“You always prepare your mind in case something happens,” she said. “Of course, most of the time nothing happens but your job is to be ready.” 

Hours into the flight, Vignes and her co-pilot were served dinner, which is typically different than what is served to the passengers.

commercial pilot : Vignes’ dinner. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

The pilot is served a different meal than the co-pilot — just in case one eats a meal that’s gone bad, the other will still be good to fly.

As the sun rose, Vignes prepared for landing, which she calls her favorite part of the flight.

commercial pilot : Right before landing. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

“It’s the best part of the flight because you have the plane in your hands,” she said. “That’s challenging because you want to do a good landing.”

Vignes explained that a good landing is safe and smooth. To achieve that, she said she must do her math correctly so she lands in the exact spot she is supposed on the runway.

After landing at 10:50 a.m., she and the flight crew prepared the plane for the next crew that would be using it.

commercial pilot : The flight crew. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

She also has to report any potential damage that might have occurred during the flight so that the next crew is safe. 

Back at the La Compagnie office in Paris, Vignes decompressed after a long flight and geared up for her next trip later that month.

Vignes at La Compagnie offices. 
Courtesy of Amandine Hivert Vignes

Although she said being a female pilot isn’t all that different from a male pilot, Vignes is glad to inspire other women to follow their dreams of flying because she loves what she does for a living. 

“People usually pay to fly, [but] when you’re a commercial pilot, they pay you to fly,” Vignes said. “It’s amazing. You never go to work, [and] it’s always a pleasure. For me, it’s the best thing.” 

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