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MAY 2005

Staci Hatch, Pilot for Jet Blue

By Michelle DeSarbo

Captain Staci Hatch comes from a military family. After working as an instructor at a the C-21 located in Biloxi, Mississippi, the Columbus, Georgia native left the military and began working as an Airbus First Officer with US Airways. As a result of major downsizing related to September 11, Hatch found herself at jetBlue Airways in March 2002. She worked as an Airbus First Officer before being promoted to a captain about one year later.

Education Update (EU): How did you choose this career?

Captain Staci Hatch (SH): My dad was a pilot, so I was in an environment where I was used to the military and I knew the military at a very young age. We lived on the East German border and so I was 10 or 11 years old and very much in the world, as they say. I was very mature and grown up for my age. I knew I always wanted to go into the military because I always felt like it was an honorable thing to do, and especially because my father had been in the military for 30 years. Every little girl wants to have a hero, and my hero was my dad, a military pilot. I wanted to be a pilot like my dad.


EU: What is your educational background?

SH: We moved a lot until I graduated from high school. But I went to Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama. I went to college on a full scholarship from the military through the Air Force R.O.T.C. program. Then I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder and studied aerospace engineering. I had at one point in my career completed about half of my master’s degree, but I left the military at that point. I was just a full-time pilot instead of being a pilot part-time and a military officer part-time.

EU: What are some of the challenges and obstacles you have faced in your career?

SH: I think the obvious thing is going into the military as a female pilot. That can be an obstacle because it was a career path that, 15 years ago, did not have a well-proven track record for women. So I had to overcome some stereotypes that people had about female pilots, and I don’t think it’s uncommon in unique professions across the board. In addition, I am a perfectionist. I had to learn not to take things so personally and not be so critical of myself. I think there’s a lot of discipline required for this profession, and I say that specifically because I went through the military. I can’t say that for women who have done civilian flying and civilian training, although I would venture a guess that it’s probably true for them as well.

EU: What is it like to be a woman in a male-dominated profession?

SH: It can be intimidating.  I find on a personal level that it has honed my ability to communicate and my ability to lead. Maybe some of that has to do with my military exposure. For me, it has been a little intimidating at times. I would never have changed any of it because it has made me who I am today. When you fly with somebody who is a one-star general, and you’re his instructor and he’s never flown the aircraft before, putting total faith and confidence in your ability to teach him, you realize at that point that you have transcended the gender issue and become a valuable educational tool for that one-star general to utilize. What a great compliment to your personality!

EU: What has been your most memorable experience as a pilot?

SH: Gosh, there are so many! There are so many positive experiences that come with being a pilot. I had an opportunity recently when I was going through one of our airports. I noticed that there was an elderly couple—the husband was in a wheelchair, and his wife was pushing him, and it was very clear that they were unfamiliar with the airport. So I stopped and asked if I could help them. They were actually taking my flight to Las Vegas. When I asked if this was their first time on Jet Blue, they replied, “Oh, yes.” I explained how to use the headsets and made sure they got something to eat. I also told them about the snacks on board. I think that they were so thrown off-guard that their captain would go to such extremes to put them at ease and explain to them how things work, because the airport that we were flying out of was Long Beach and we don’t have a jet way system set up in Long Beach. They have air stairs for entry to the craft. If you’re in a wheelchair, there’s no way that you can get up there unless you’re on a hydraulic lift.  It’s a little bit of a different experience. So I was explaining to them how the wheelchair experience was going to go for him and what to expect and told them to board early. I went back and brought them a couple of bottles of water and made sure that they had gotten settled in okay. They actually wrote to the company and were appreciative and praised me. I was really touched by that because it reaffirms in my mind that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing and where I need to be is exactly at Jet Blue because it gives me the opportunity to really touch people on a very personal level and bring the humanity back into flying for people.

EU: Would you recommend this career to young people?

SH: I do guest speaking for Jet Blue at inner-city schools specifically geared towards kids who wouldn’t normally think about this as a profession. If you don’t think you have the money, don’t worry, because my parents didn’t either! If you go to school and work hard and someone wants to give you a full scholarship to college, the rainbow is yours for the taking!#



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