Female Captain at American Airlines Paves Way for Others

Beverly Bass is a pioneer.

She soared to heights women had never reached before.

She has folders full of pictures to prove it.

"Oh gosh, I was so young back then," she chuckled, while looking through the photos. "I couldn't imagine what it would be like to fly."

As a kid she watched planes take off and land.

"I was just enamored with the idea of flying," she added.

In the mid 1970s, she got her chance.

"I remember thinking, those pilots must be Gods," she laughed. "Then I learned that they really are," she added, with a smile.

Though her first job as a pilot was not exactly to die for. She made $5 an hour flying a small bonanza for a local mortician.

"The plane wasn't big enough for a casket, so the body that I was going to fly was on a stretcher with a sheet over it," she added.

Just a few years later, in October of 1976, Bass became the third female pilot hired at American Airlines.

"One of the best days of my life, no doubt," she said. "I was a flight engineer on the 727."

She was in charge of managing the plane's systems, but she wanted to do more.

"I would interview for jobs and the guys would say, 'gosh, we'd love to have you flying our airplane and you have plenty of experience but we just can't have a female flying our executives because we don't know what their wives would think of that.'"

It took a while, but nearly a decade later, she got a big promotion.

"It wasn't anything special that I did, it was just my turn."

Beverly Bass became the first female captain at American.

"Oh, it was unbelievable," she recalled. "It was a big deal just to have female co-pilots, just because now we're actually flying the airplane as opposed to managing the systems. And now to have a female captain who's literally going to be in charge of everything, it was a big deal."

Then, roughly a month after that, she made history again.

"December 30th, 1986," she said. "Some dates you never forget and that's one of them."

That's when she led the first all-female crew aboard an American Airlines flight.

"I didn't try to do this, it just happened."

And she just happened to be flying on the darkest day in aviation history.

"Actually, we had just left Paris en route to Dallas."

She was over the North Atlantic when the first plane hit the World Trade Center on 9/11.

"It was about 20 minutes later that we got notification that the second tower had been hit and of course with that, everything changed drastically."

With all U.S. airspace closed, she was forced to divert to Gander Newfoundland.

"When I made the announcement to the passengers I had very little to tell them, but I knew I had to say something," she said. "I just told them that there had been a crisis in the United States."

Her crew and passengers were not allowed to deplane until the next day.

"We had flown for 7 hours before we landed, which means we were on the airplane for 28 hours," she said. "In 2001 very few people had cell phones and on the airplanes there wasn't any way to charge them."

She was stuck there for five days.

It was a trip that was turned into a Broadway play called Come From Away.

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