SAN AUGUSTINE CO., TX (KTRE) - Can you imagine sitting in the cockpit of a 737 jetliner with the fate of almost 200 passengers and crew in your hands?
Many of us do not give a second thought about who is behind the controls of the airplane when we board. We trust the pilot to get us to and from our destination.
But a pilot's life is much more complicated than that. One of the best is a female pilot found right here in East Texas.
Linda Alexander took flying lessons at age 29. The lessons were a gift from her father who served in World War II. It seems her feet have not touched the ground since.
"I took to it like a duck to the water and I just kept on flying and buying lessons. I started working at the flight school on weekends because I could get discounts on the airplanes and sometimes sweet talk the instructors into not charging me because flying is fairly expensive. So, I pretty much dedicated my life to flying airplanes for the next four or five years and increased in ratings and certificates," said Alexander.
She has logged more than 18,000 hours of flight time. No easy task. "To give you kind of a perspective of how much time that is you can get a private pilots certificate which is basically the lowest with only 40 hours of flight time, and 1,500 you need to get the airline transport pilot certificate. I now have over 18,000 hours of flight time."
Mind you, her training and certifications came during a time when women pilots were not exactly embraced.
Nowadays, she is a pilot for Continental/United Airlines, flying the Boeing 737 jets across country.
"It's been a major change it's been a major change. I remember years ago flying with a Delta pilot which I knew through the flight school and I asked him one time, 'What would you do if you had a female flying with you in the cockpit?' He sat right there, he was a friend, he sat right there and said, 'I would make her life so miserable she would never want to fly in an airplane again.' And, I thought, well, that was OK, alright. When I went to fly commercially, first, at Rocky Mountain then at Continental there were so few of us. I think there were less than a half of a percent of all, so, the environment of the cockpit itself, the men, I think, had a little more trepidation," said Alexander.
Not one to be deterred, she decided to conform to fit the male pilots' world rather than trying to make them transform to fit hers. "Now there are women that I've seen over the years that have gone the other way. They were the trailblazers in making sure that nobody ever told an off color joke and things like that. I didn't."
One of her proudest career moments was getting to pilot the plane carrying World War II veterans to Washington, DC to see the monument in their honor. Her father, the man who started her on this pilot's journey, was one of the 94 WWII Texas veterans board.
From the outside a pilot's job sounds glamorous, exciting, even rewarding. "Over the years, yes, it has gotten better. We don't, as women, look quite as out of place in the cockpit and there are fewer and fewer people who are surprised to find that their captain was a woman and I do get a lot of people, flight attendants and passengers, who will come up, find out that they had a woman captain and they just want to come up and shake my hand 'you go girl,' things like that and I've got to share this funny story. One time there was a man and a woman getting on the airplane and I was sitting there I was a first officer at the time and I was sitting there in the right seat and the woman looked in and she saw me in there and she said, 'Oh good, a woman pilot. She said, 'Now I know we're gonna get where we're going because she won't be afraid to stop and ask for directions' (laughing)."
But do not forget time consuming, stressful, and the toll it takes on your body.
"I've gone to sleep Tuesday night on eastern time and I go to sleep that night on pacific time. I may have made a stop somewhere in central or mountain time to boot and then they got places likes Arizona that don't go on daylight saving time (laugh) half of Indiana does and half of it doesn't. It's something I think most people can't even comprehend that it is a toll on the body to get up at two o'clock in the morning by your body time and then go to sleep with such a different time later."
Did I mention the 165 mile one way commute to get to work?
With that kind of commitment and responsibility, one needs a sanctuary.
For Alexander, it is her own spacious slice of heaven in San Augustine County.
"Goats, cows, horses, calves, ponies…two dogs, five cats, three blind cats, actually one house cat in the house, one house cat outside the house, lot of farm animals," said Rick Smith, Linda's husband.
"Absolutely, (laugh) absolutely, my sanctuary. At work I'm surrounded by noise all the time. On a typical flight I've got a thing in my ear and listening to all the communications that are going on in my world. I've got a first officer over here. I've got flight attendants dinging me from the back, you know, 'Asking what time are we gonna get there?' and all sorts of things and then there's always just the sound of the wind going over the windows of the airplane and sounds of the jet and engines. When you get down on the ground it's the sounds of the announcements at the airport so when I get in my truck to come home and I get here this is so silent. I can hear a horse whinny out there and that's as much sound as I want to hear (laugh) this is absolutely my sanctuary."
"I'm very proud of my wife she's accomplished a lot that most women won't be able to do or don't want to do didn't want to overstep their boundaries."
"Well, when I first put it on years 24 years ago, I couldn't move away from the window the mirror I was so proud of myself. Now, it's just what I do when I go to work. There aren't very many women who do what I do and when I am in uniform and walking around the airport I do get still, even after so many years, I still feel a little bit like a goldfish in a glass bowl. It's also strange that I can direct a flight, I can make several announcements, 'This is captain Alexander,' and I'll still have five people get off the airplane and say, 'Oh were you our pilot' (laughing)."
Today they refer to her as Captain Linda Alexander…she's got the strips visible and invisible to prove it. "It's not gender or race specific, it's how bad you want to do it and how much time and effort you're willing to invest in it. And, I'll tell you what, being an airline pilot sure beats working for a living (smiling)."
Commercial Airline Pilot, Somebody's Got to Do It.
By the way, being a pilot is more than enough to keep Captain Alexander busy, however, she and her husband are also very active in Rodeos. They will be helping with this year's Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.