Five Things I Learned About Flying by Researching My Pilot Heroine

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By Kat Latham, author of TEMPTING THE PLAYER

One of my favorite things about plotting a new book is coming up with my heroine’s job. I write a series about English rugby players, so I already know the heroes’ jobs, and I love giving my heroines cool careers that say something about their personalities.

In Tempting the Player, Libby Hart is a commercial airline pilot. Like many non-military pilots, she started her career as a flight instructor so she could build her flight hours and get hired by an airline. As it turns out, her experience makes her the ideal person to help her best friend Matt overcome his terror of flying, a phobia that’s holding back his rugby career.

I can identify with Matt more than Libby. I’m scared of flying, and I have to do it a lot for my job and because I live in a different country than my parents and my in-laws. As part of my research, I took a flying lesson, I interviewed pilots, and I read books by people who spent their careers in the cockpit. Here are a few of the facts I learned that amazed me. I hope they amaze you too!

1. Forget engine failure. The thing that scares pilots most is…

Charlie Beauchesne, a retired airline pilot, told me, “In the flight simulator, we regularly practice having engine failure at takeoff—the most critical point. Pilots aren’t going to take off with a single pound more than the plane can handle with one engine. Our biggest fear is in-flight fire. If that happens, we put on our oxygen masks, disable the electrical system to the point where we can still fly the plane, then put it on the ground.”

This conversation brought back a terrifying memory I have of the overhead compartment in my row bursting into flames over the Atlantic when I was 15. I also remember the flight attendants running up and down the aisle yelling, “Where’s the fire extinguisher? I can’t find the fire extinguisher! Don’t use it all, we may need it again!”

And then my brain melted down.

2. Flight attendants were the first group of people to use antidiscrimination legislation to fight for equal employment rights in the U.S.

This is a bit of a cheat because I actually read about this long before I started writing Tempting the Player, but it’s so interesting that I still think about it. In 1965, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was set up in the U.S. to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Notice that gender wasn’t on that list. It was really a commission to address racial discrimination. But the first people to bring a complaint to the commission were female flight attendants.

I read about it in Gail Collins’ brilliant history When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. She talks about how flight attendants had strict weight requirements (they couldn’t be bigger than size 4) and couldn’t be married. One woman she interviewed recalling having a colleague who had secretly gotten married without telling the airline. Soon after that, during a layover, some men boarded the plane, grabbed her and marched her off. She lost her job.

These brave women brought their complaint to the commission and were mocked. This New York Times review sums up what the women faced even before they brought their complaint to the commission. “In a 1964 Congressional hearing, when airline executives testified that it was imperative for businessmen that attractive women light their cigars and fix drinks, Representative Martha Griffiths said, ‘What are you running, an airline or a whorehouse?’ and the conversation began to change.”

So if you’re glad that your employer can’t (openly) discriminate against you because of your gender, thank a 1960s flight attendant.

3. Most pilots get their initial training from the military, which is why it’s traditionally been a male-dominated profession.

Flight training is really expensive, so most pilots have a military background. Since women have only recently been able to become military pilots (and that depends on the country you’re from), the job has been dominated by men. But more and more women are finding their way into the profession—whether through the military or private flight schools or getting a college degree and joining an airline’s flight program. Hopefully there will be a balance of power soon!

But, during my research I found another, more subtle barrier to women becoming airline pilots: height requirements. Lufthansa, for example, requires pilots to be 5’5” tall. Considering the average woman is 5’4”, this seems discriminatory. A judge in Cologne, Germany, recently criticized the airline for indirect discrimination. Of course, pilots have to be able to touch the pedals, and there’s also an upper height limit that’s likely to make it difficult for very tall men, but perhaps the design of cockpits on certain planes needs to be looked at so more women can become airline pilots.

4. Promotion is determined by seniority, not skill.

Your hire date is the most important factor in when you’ll get promoted. For those of us who are scared of flying, it’s a sobering thought.

5. There’s a whole website dedicated to barf bag design.

Yes, let’s end on a light note. People collect airsickness bags. They do. Seriously. I’m not joking.

Hopefully they only collect unused ones, but I guess you never know. And please don’t ask me how many hours I spent transfixed by this website. Probably as many hours as I’ve spent stuck on planes this year.

 

9781426899218Tempting the Player

Book three of the London Legends

Best friends make the best lovers.

Libby Hart and Matt Ogden are perfect for each other—as friends. They’ve known each other for ages. They act as each other’s plus-ones. They even share custody of a dog. And if there’s always been a little spark between them, so what? It’s never been worth jeopardizing their friendship.

Professional rugby player Matt is fighting for a starter position with the London Legends—and that’s not the only thing he’s fighting. A crippling fear of flying means he’s struggling to get his career off the ground. He has no time for a relationship, even if Libby does make him ache. As an airline pilot, Libby’s looking for a stay-at-home husband so she can have a family without sacrificing her high-flying career. Matt’s certainly not that man.

But just because they don’t have a future together doesn’t mean they can’t have a right now. When Matt asks Libby for help overcoming his fear, they agree to take a vacation from their platonic relationship—whenever they fly together, they can have sex. It’s the perfect way to resolve all that built-up tension. As long as they can avoid getting a little too comfortable…

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About Kat Latham

Kat Latham is a California girl who moved to Europe the day after graduating from UCLA, ditching her tank tops for raincoats. She taught English in Prague and worked as an editor in London before she and her British husband moved to the Netherlands. Kat’s other career involves writing and editing for charities, and she’s traveled to Kenya, Ethiopia and India to meet heroic people helping their communities survive disasters. She would love to hear from you!

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