In celebration of International Women's Day, Air India Flight 173 took off on Sunday from Delhi to San Francisco, with an all-female crew, making it the longest flight staffed entirely by women in history.
From the ground staff overseeing the boarding process, to the four people operating the controls, an Air India Boeing 777-LR that took off from Delhi on Sunday was entirely staffed by women. Seventeen hours later it landed in San Francisco, and—following some well-deserved rest—the same crew will make the return flight on Tuesday, International Women's Day.
The airline will be operating 20 all-women crewed flights domestically and internationally to celebrate International Women's Day, but this particular trek is noteworthy for its length: The 14,500-kilometer (9,000-mile) route, led by Captain Kshamta Bajpayee and Captain Shubhangi Singh, makes it the longest flight ever operated by an entirely female crew.
"This year for the first time, on the world's longest non-stop flight, entire flight operations from cockpit crew to cabin crew, check-in staff, doctor, customer care staff, ATC (air traffic control) and the entire ground-handling...were handled by women," Air India said in a release.
This continues a tradition that started when Air India was the first carrier to ever operate a flight with an all-women crew on a domestic flight from Calcutta to Silchar in 1985.
Other airlines have garnered similar headlines in the past, including Air Zimbabwe and Ethiopian Airlines, which operated all-women flights from Harare to Victoria Falls and Addis Ababa to Bangkok, respectively, and an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight between Atlanta and Nashville in 2009, which was flown by the first all-female African-American crew.
As a celebration of International Women's Day, these flights mark important milestones for women in aviation. But, the fact that these occasions still make headlines is also a reminder of how much work there is to do, before there is even a semblance of equal gender representation in the profession.
According to FAA data, just 6 percent of commercial pilots in the United States are women, a number that has only increased by about 2 percentage points, since 1998. Organizations such as Women in Aviation International are trying to correct the discrepancy through flight school scholarships, educational outreach, and awareness programs, and airlines like JetBlue and British Airways have launched training programs that aim to increase diversity in the cockpit. While it is still all-too-rare to hear "This is your captain speaking," coming through the PA in a woman's voice, this Air India flight is an important step forward for the male-dominated aviation industry.