Emily Howell Warner, truly the pioneer of women entering commercial airlines’ cockpits

Emily Howell Warner Frontier“I mean, the airplane doesn’t know if you’re male or female,” Emily Howell Warner once quipped.
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Sadly Emily Howell Warner has passed

The first woman airline captain, first to join ALPA and first to lead an all female cockpit

One of the Most Impressive Female Pioneer

The role of women in aviation has been a focus of the JDA Journal:


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ICAO Elects Its First Woman Secretary General

Welcome To First Woman Chair Of RAA

AA Names Woman Captain As The DFW Station’s Chief Pilot

NAA Awards 2013 Wright Memorial Trophy To 2nd Woman Recipient

Woman Made History 50 Years Ago By Piloting Solo Across The Pacific

Aviatrices Past And Present

Patty Wagstaff Inverted V Tail Beech K35

WAI’s Dr. Chabrian INSPIRES

The Unrecognized Contributions Of Women In The Federal Aviation Administration

Three Aviation Heroes In FAAland

Trailblazer In ATC, BJ Smith, HONORED

National Air & Space Museum Has A New Director With A PHD

Southwest Captain Shults: Nerves Of Steel + Heart Of Gold= HERO

Inspiration For Women To Become Aviators As Professionals

Great Aviation Leader Dies With Long List Of Achievements- A WASP And So Much More–Women In Aviation Scholarship ?


AA Celebrates Bette Nash’s 60 Years But Fails To Praise Her Safety Work

This Career Employee Who Does Good For Her Country–Patrice M. Kelly

Early Women Pioneers Of Aviation @ Boeing Plus United’s Support Today

Margaret Gilligan Retires From FAA Having Laid Sound Foundations For A Proactive, Consistent & Dynamic Safety Culture

Peggy Gilligan

The accomplishments of pioneers, exceptional experts, war heroes, aerobatic pilot, historians, airline pilots & executives and extraordinary government leaders are all reviewed in these articles.

This post about Emily Howell Warner chronicles the determination of a talented, young aviatrix who literally fought her way into a commercial airline cockpit. The word “pioneer” traces its roots to a French word for “foot soldier” and that she was. Clearly, Ms. Warner serves as a role model for future women entering all fields of aviation.

Emily Howell Warner, pioneer of commercial aviation, dies at 80


Warner as a young pilot


Emily Langer

July 23, 2020 at 5:41 p.m. EDT

“Emily Howell Warner was looking toward life beyond high school when she booked the first plane trip of her life to decide if a career as a stewardess might suit her. (It was 1958, and the job title had not yet been modernized to “flight attendant.”)


The trip was a short jaunt on Frontier Airlines, roughly 200 miles from her home in Denver to Gunnison, Colo. On the 7:30 a.m. leg home, she was the only passenger aboard the Douglas DC-3 and talked her way into the cockpit. “I looked out that front window, and it just hit me,” she told the Denver Post years later. “It’s so beautiful looking out of the front window instead of looking out of the sides.”

Sensing her excitement, the co-pilot encouraged her to enroll in flight lessons.

“To which I said, ‘Gee, can a girl take flying lessons?’” she recounted.

Clinton Aviation


Within weeks, at age 18, she had obtained her student pilot’s license. While holding down a secretarial job at Clinton Aviation in Denver, she began accumulating more than 7,000 flight hours on her way to receiving commercial, instrument, multi-engine and instructor ratings. She became a flight instructor and Federal Aviation Administration pilot examiner, teaching mainly male students who continued on to airline careers.

at Clinton

By the late 1960s, she told the Denver Post, she had begun to wonder, “Well, why can’t I do that?”


Women had been flying planes almost since Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the first successful airplane flight in 1903. In 1910, the French Baroness Raymonde de la Roche received the first pilot’s license granted to a woman. A year later, Harriet Quimby became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Amelia Earhart, the most celebrated woman in aviation history, became an international celebrity in 1932 with her nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.


But even in the 1970s, with the women’s movement in full swing, the flight deck of commercial airplanes remained largely closed to women. Mrs. Warner — then Emily Howell — endured five years of rejected job applications before she met with a vice president at Frontier. During the interview, he expressed concern about what she might wear in the cockpit, as only men’s airline pilot uniforms existed at the time.

“I said that was the least of his problems,” she told the Denver Post, “I said, ‘The pantsuit is in, so all you’d have to do is design it like a uniform with some stripes on it.’ ”

With that issue resolved — along with her extensive qualifications — she was hired in 1973.

Frontier B737-1976

“Beginning next month, there are expected to be 35,000 men and one woman working as pilots on major scheduled United States airlines,” the New York Times reported that January. “The woman will be 33-year-old Emily Howell, just hired by Frontier Airlines of Denver, as a second officer to help fly its Boeing 737s. The airline and the Air Line Pilots Association said that would make Miss Howell the only woman pilot working for a scheduled American carrier, exclusive of air taxis, and probably the first woman in American aviation history.”

first all female crew

According to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, she became the first female captain for a U.S. airline, the commander of the first all-female flight crew in the United States and the first woman to join the Air Line Pilots Association.

…After her death, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum published an online tribute that described her career as marking “the beginning of massive changes for women pilots in the U.S. airlines.”


“Her career and dedication to the aviation industry,” the tribute read, “encapsulates the spirit of the first women to successfully secure a spot in the front seats of commercial airliners.”


During her interview at Frontier, the vice president retrieved an unread copy of “She’ll Never Get Off the Ground” (1971), a novel by Robert J. Serling about an emotional female pilot who brings down her plane, and pointedly asked Mrs. Warner if she recommended it.


“I wouldn’t bother with it if I were you,” she replied, according to the Smithsonian tribute. “It doesn’t have a very worthwhile ending. There is only one thing that fictional pilot and I have in common: We both drive Mustangs.”


Mrs. Warner was not technically the first woman to pilot a plane for a U.S. airline. Helen Richey briefly flew for Central Airlines beginning in 1934. But she soon recognized her hiring as a public relations ploy and quit.


“Emily’s story is important because she was the first [woman] not hired for public relations or out of pure need, such as the pilots in World War II, said Caroline Johnson, a Guggenheim fellow at the National Air and Space Museum, which acquired Mrs. Warner’s Frontier uniform for its collection.

Warner uniform

Later in her career, Mrs. Warner flew for Continental and as a Boeing 727 captain for UPS. After retiring from UPS in 1990, she worked for the FAA.

CO, UPS and FAA shields



Today there are approximately 185,000 airline pilots, 5 percent of whom are women and 1 percent of whom are female captains, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.


Mrs. Warner once told Newsday that early in her career, a male pilot remarked that the thought of her “in the cockpit ruined his golf game.” The second captain with whom she flew declined to shake her hand and ordered her not to touch the controls. Her response, she told the Associated Press years later, was simply to be professional.

“I mean,” she said, “the airplane doesn’t know if you’re male or female.”


Read more Washington Post obituaries

Emily Langer

aviation hall of fame

Emily Howell Warner



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2 Comments on "Emily Howell Warner, truly the pioneer of women entering commercial airlines’ cockpits"

  1. Michael White | July 28, 2020 at 2:50 pm | Reply

    I had the pleasure of knowing Emily while I was with Frontier Airlines. I remember some of the pressure that her male colleagues would sometimes complain, but they were the minority. At our annual Original Frontier Airlines reunion (not the same Frontier as today), I got to talk with her one last time in 2017. She loved aviation and she loved our Frontier Family. We are so proud of how professional she was, but those of us at Frontier her knew how great she was on the future commercial pilots that were sitting in the wings. We will miss her.

  2. Sandy Murdock | July 28, 2020 at 3:09 pm | Reply

    Thanks for the nice comment. Much appreciated.

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