Julie Hafen - Woman in Aviation

Julie Hafen - Woman in Aviation

I’ve come to realize that women are just as capable as men. The airplane doesn’t care about gender. It cares about skill and knowledge.

Julie Hafen (UVU Class of 2006), now a 5-year pilot at Delta Air Lines, still has to pinch herself when she sits down in the cockpit of her A220. She was able to attain her dream job, and for her it was “Delta or nothing.”

An airline pilot career was not always on her radar, however. During her teenage years at Payson High School in Utah, she was able to take some courses via Utah Valley University’s concurrent enrollment program and earn college credits even before she graduated. She took the Survey of Aviation course taught by retired Air Force veteran, Col. Richard Crandall. At the time, she admits she didn’t even know what ‘aviation’ was. The course opened her eyes and altered the path of her future. She credits Col. Crandall as one of the main reasons she decided to go into aviation.

Unlike many pilots, Julie had to blaze her own trail as the first aviator in her family. Without the benefit of the grandfather or dad pilot whose footsteps she could follow, stepping into an unknown career field can be intimidating. When she first started, her family was supportive, but thought she would end up getting married and having kids, not actually becoming a professional pilot. She proved that both are possible.

Julie’s journey to her current position at Delta was definitely challenging, but very rewarding. She trained and studied in the UVU Bachelor of Science – Professional Pilot program from 2003 to 2006. After building a sufficient number of flight hours as a flight instructor, she was hired by SkyWest Airlines, and flew the CRJ 900 for 4 years before she became a mother. After a six month maternity leave she went back to work on weekends when her husband was home. She was able to fly on weekends while her husband was home. In 2017, she was hired by Delta Air Lines and later had her third baby. At that point, her husband decided to be a stay at home dad when childcare became too expensive.

pilot julie hafenBalancing family life with an airline pilot career can be a struggle, but it is definitely possible. Julie says, “It’s a real concern. I had that same concern. I had fears of divorce because it is so common. I was nervous to have children and leave them with someone else.” Now Julie is home with her kids more than a regular full-time working mom.  She works 15 days of the month at the most, averaging 3-4 days per week and based on her schedule she bid for, is home almost every night. “There are ways to make it happen, if it is something you want to do”, she says.

It is no secret that aviation is a very male-dominated career field. In fact, only 6% of airline pilots are women. This can be a challenge and even a barrier for women who may want to enter the career field. Julie has had a few interesting experiences as a woman, who did not fit the stereotypical image of an airline pilot. She often flies with male pilots in their 50’s and 60’s and explained that there were some hesitations when they would first meet her. “They looked at me, they made assumptions.” However, these types of experiences were quite rare, she explains.

She also says that passengers will sometimes approach her and express how proud of her they are and that she is the first female airline pilot they have ever seen. For other women thinking about aviation as a career, but who are perhaps hesitant due to its non-traditional nature as a career for women, Julie advises them to “Find other female aviators who have made it. Talk to them and ask all the questions that you are afraid of.”

Julie went on to explain, “There is an unconscious bias in our culture that women should stay home and raise children and that the man should be the one working. Until recently, I didn’t feel like I fit-into the pilot world. I realized it was because I had a constant feeling that I wasn’t doing enough for my family and my children, that I should only be raising children and not pursuing my passion. I’ve come to realize that women are just as capable as men. The airplane doesn’t care about gender. It cares about skill and knowledge. Families are what we make them. My husband stays home and takes care of the kids when I am gone, and I get to be a pilot and a mom, the best of both worlds.” She realizes there are so many women who have similar struggles. They don’t realize that that they can pursue their passion and also be a mother. Julie is proof that it can be done.

“If it’s your passion, find a way to make it happen. Everything else that is meant to be in your life will be there. There IS room for it.”