The Surprising Country With The Most Female Pilots

Filed Under: Misc.

Aviation has long had gender stereotypes, with the assumptions that men are pilots and women are flight attendants. It’s great to see that change over time, in particular with more women in the flight deck.

Not only have women historically faced more problems with becoming pilots, but I recently saw a story about how historically most male pilots knew they wanted to be a pilot from a very young age, while the same isn’t true for female pilots. Presumably that’s because they largely never thought that was possible, and were never encouraged to consider that as a career option.

So anything that encourages women to consider a career as a pilot from a young age is great. Aviation is an industry of passion, and probably more than just about any other industry, it’s one that people dream of from a young age.

As you might expect, there’s still a huge disparity in terms of the number of female pilots by country. On one end of the spectrum you have Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t have any female airline pilots.

I loved how in 2016 Royal Brunei had three female pilots land a plane in Saudi Arabia, a country where the women wouldn’t have even been allowed to drive cars at the time. There is perhaps some irony to Brunei making a social statement like this, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

You might be surprised to learn, however, the country that has the highest percentage of female airline pilots, as reported by The Telegraph. My guess would have been that it’s the US, UK, Australia, Canada, or a Northern European country.

But the country with the highest percentage of female airline pilots is actually India. This in spite of the fact that in 2012, India was voted the worst G20 country in which to be a woman (Canada was voted number one).

Globally about 5.2% of airline pilots are female, while in India that number is closer to 13%. Meanwhile in the UK that number is 4.8%, and in the US that number is 4.4%, so both countries actually have a below average number of female pilots.

It’s interesting to see the different percentages of female pilots across airlines in the same country. For example, in the US, 3.6% of Southwest pilots are females, while 7.4% of United pilots are females. That’s clearly more than a coincidence.

In fairness, I suspect part of the reason the US has relatively few female pilots is because the US in particular has an aging pilot “force.” Many pilots at major US airlines have been there for decades, and the reality is that decades ago there were very few female pilots.

My guess is that in the US the number of female pilots hired in the past several years is significantly higher… or at least I’d hope it is. That might also partly explain why there are so many female pilots in India. The aviation industry is booming, and is so much bigger than it was even a decade ago.

Are you surprised that India is the country with the most female pilots, and that the margin is so big? 

  1. I don’t see what’s so surprising. Education is highly valued in Indian culture—just because the media portrays India as exotic and other worldly-curry-land women are generally highly educated.

    And why use a pic of the Brunei pilots if you’re going to be leading up to India being the topic?

  2. I suppose a headline like “India Leads the World in Female Pilots” just doesn’t the same clickbaity feel.

  3. Dude you are become seriously arrogant and tone deaf. You lead this article picture with a click bait??? Instead of highlighting the Women pilots of India you choose to use this picture? Plus what is so surprising?? Have you been to India?? If you have and had paid attention you would have noted the number of women pilots – it’s unmissable on flights and at airports. This coupled with your obviously scam promoting post on buying sketch coins has brought down the respect for this site. Also noticeable has been your silence on the outrage on that post from readers and likely on this one too. Have you heard of Hubris? Not good.

  4. It seems counter-intuitive, but the more egalitarian a society is, the more traditional the choice of job. You’ll also generally find a greater percentage of women in engineering or IT in India or Iran than in Canada or Scandinavia. Apparently, the more (economic freedom) you have in your choice of profession, the more gender matters – unless you have no freedom at all, of course.

  5. Lucky. I will give you benefit of the doubt. I think you meant well though it again reinforced the notion about the bubble you travel in, even if you are visiting more countries now.

  6. Lucky. Although I don’t see what’s so surprising about this and the picture (Air India once flew a all female CREW (pilot+cabin crew) on 777 to USA on Womens day few years back) . Ill still say that I m glad you choose to write about this. Hopefully this will change the image of India in the minds few.

  7. Lucky may ‘travel’ the world but his focus is on the ‘travel’ (read reviewing airlines and lounges) not learning much about where he is going.
    My 94 year old mother was a math teacher in India. Her older sister was a physician.
    So much for stereotypes.

  8. While the responses are a little harsh, Lucky shows virtually no interest in seeing the world sticking to luxury flights and chain hotels. It’s not surprising he isn’t very “worldly” – despite his travel patterns suggesting he should be. And I guess in his defence, he’s never claimed to be anyway.

  9. Why can the diff in WN and UA not be a coincidence? Couldn’t it just be a matter of non-nefarious regional differences?
    I guess the wording makes it sound nefarious but they could have a much lower % of female applicants, do we have those data?

  10. Surprised? For sure. But while also Brunei’s move to fly a 787 with only female crew to Saudi in a country in which women couldn’t still drive at that time, yet there’s another surprise for you. At that time and much earlier, Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Al Saud, Forbes richest Arab, among his pilots had a Saudi female.

  11. India elected a woman Prime Minister in 1970s, a woman President in late 2007 and woman Foreign, Defence Minister in the current government. Meanwhile here in US we are still waiting for a woman president. Heck 2016 was the first time in US history when a woman was nominated as a presendial candidate by a major political party. So in short no I am not surprized.

  12. Lol at all the nasty comments to Lucky and how he doesn’t really “travel”. This is a blog about reviewing premium cabins! There are plenty of other blogs out there dedicated to traveling to countries and becoming immersed in the culture, i don’t understand why there is always so much hate and anger in the comments.

    Anyway, for context I am a western woman and I have lived in India twice (working in the slums of Mumbai and at a university and women’s shelter in Cochin) for extended periods of time so am quite aware of the beautiful side of the culture that is often ignored in the media by painting India as an unsafe country where as a woman you are constantly at risk of being raped. In saying that however, despite the progress and value placed on educating women in places like Kerala, it is still a terrible place to be born a woman and I found this post interesting and insightful. I have flown into and around India a fair bit and was not aware of this fact, so thank you Lucky! I do think the points you noted as possible reasons (I.e. very recent development) are valid. And modern women from wealthy families who could afford pilot training are most certainly from much more progressive parts of the country. Different states and parts of India are truly like different worlds.

  13. Why is it “clearly more than a coincidence”? Are you alleging gender discrimination? If Southwest had 5% female pilots and United 6%, could that suffice as just a coincidence?

  14. As an earlier comment says, Indian women run lots of things: at one point, five of India’s biggest states had female chief ministers. Even more remarkable is that, a few years ago, the Prime Minister was a Sikh, the leader of the ruling party was born an Italian Catholic (and is a woman) and the President was a Muslim. This in a country that’s over 70% Hindu. We, in Europe and North America, have a long way to go

  15. Saudia have female pilots. There is no law preventing women flying in Saudi Arabia. Although I do agree that it was ridiculous that until very recently they couldn’t legally drive themselves to work.

  16. People, chill out. @lucky needs to post stuff on a quiet weekend like today. I do see that @lucky has a particular soft spot for (in)equality.

    Now if only inequality can cause some controversy to get more clicks blogger style.
    Might I suggest income inequality between people flying Emirates First Class and say someone repacking their bags in front of Spirit check-in counter because it was 1.5 lbs over.
    Just suggesting, since you are among the few who flown both airlines and praise both of them. I’m sure it will create bunch of clicks for you. At the end you can also sell credit cards so the middle class can fly F using miles.

  17. I still don’t understand why you would want to visit the sexist, homophobic oppressive nation that is Saudi Arabia?

  18. Haha all the Indians are mad for some reason. Having been there many times over several decades (among many other countries), I can honestly agree that its the worst country in the world be born as a female, and I’ve been around Asia, Africa, and the Middle east plenty enough. They may have women pilots, but I can guarantee you they are from the top few percent of thir society, the bottom 90% live in squalor. 80% of the population doesn’t have access to a toilet. In most big cities other than may be Calcutta, if you are an attractive female walking outside alone after 10pm, you will be gang raped.

  19. Thanks very much Lucky and @SJA for your insightful comments.

    As for the negativity on this post, I simply don’t get it. Why read the posts if you don’t like them!

    Also for those out there who seem to not understand mathematics or statistics, don’t be so quick to show your ignorance.

  20. I dont understand why the first few comments needed to be that harsh and sarcastic. Its not like OMAAT requires any sort of subscription. The contents are free to view for everyone. Why complain when these people dont shed a single cent on this blog?

    Keep up the good work Lucky. Always enjoyed this blog and i visit here daily and the articles are a good read. The more i learn huh…

    With lots of love from Malaysia..

  21. If this isn’t the most offensive thing I have ever seen Ben write, it is the worst I remember.

    The ignorant assumptions made say more about the writer than about the reality.

    If you cannot find something better than this to write, then just take the weekend off.

  22. @Mark Chataway- “We, in Europe and North America, have a long way to go (to becoming India)”.

    Let’s hope that’s the case. I like living mostly around people who prefer not to go #2 outdoors, and in a society that doesn’t have a demonic caste system that deems 1/5 of the population as ‘untouchable’.

    Not to mention, every single Indian who has the chops to cut it in the West has already abandoned their ‘vibrant’ homeland.

  23. @Mac yeah just like how walking in a mall or going to a movie theatre or even going to your school in US will result you in getting killed in mass shootings

  24. Lets just split the difference, in some ways India is better than the West when it comes to women’s rights, in many other ways, it is far worse off.

  25. @Morgan why not? He is from a sexist, homophobic and oppressive nation, also known as United States?

  26. Not surprised. India is a country of smart and sensible women but insane, reckless men …perhaps over-generalised but not far from the truth.

  27. Well I was somehow expecting this. Comments from Indians I mean (not all). I am from Italy and I do appreciate that there are stereotypes for most if not all countries and nationalities and it is nice to know that someone discovers that from time to time, most of these are not real. We don’t all eat pasta or pizza. If Italian we are not de facto part of a mafia family. My Arab friends are all excellent humans and far from approving fanaticism. When visitors went to Russia during the world cup discovered that Russia is a great place with great people, different from what is depicted.

    So instead of praising someone for raising the subject and helping fight stereotypes, most what do? Take out another stereotype which implies that a great number of Indians are nationalists. Relax. It’s an article. It’s meant to provoke for the sake of exchanging opinions among people from all over the world and from different culture. Instead many Indians (I work with them and many are far from this thanks God) engage a pride fight. Others take out all there’s bad to say about Saudi and most if not all have never visited the country. Lucky does a great job by flying, writing about his experiences, perceptions and engages informative discussions leaving everyone the freedom to write even against him. Relax gents! Relax.

  28. Will they still refer to the flight deck area as the cockpit?

    (Apologies – Wheels up in two days, mind already in neutral)

  29. Nicola – I’m not Indian, nor do I even like the country…

    Most of the user names of those complaining also aren’t Indian sounding (which of course doesn’t mean they aren’t Indian) so I’m not sure why you’re so confident that they all are?

  30. Perhaps Western women just don’t like to spend much time in the cockpit.
    The opportunities are all there and I swear that the last place exclusively for men in US is a men’s room. We do not have unisex WC bathrooms like the rest of the world.

    On a serious note becoming a pilot in India is a career advancement and relative financial achievement while becoming a pilot in US is big expense and years of clocking hours of hauling cargo in an old Aztec or student teaching before hired by commuter airlines and finally getting FO position w majors leading to big $$ captains left seat in the late forties or early fifties. There are better opportunities to make money in the West. And women are more practical then men with their career choices.

  31. Leave Ben alone you stupid cunts as you don’t pay for his content. Lmao I laugh at all you internet social justice warriors never travel to the Middle East it’s all trash and smelly. If you have to for work, resorts and 5 star hotels are a must.

  32. @Callum

    Utkash, Norita, Aaron, these are 1000% Indian names unless there are two coincidences, someone making up an Indian name and acting as a Nationalist. Another coincidence? Stereotype certain nationalities and that’s a sure shortcut for a shitstorm like there’s no tomorrow.

  33. @Debit
    Strange enough I’ve heard many stereotypes of Italians and Italy, but don’t recall any on Italian women.

  34. Not surprised at all. I find women in developing nations to be far more driven than the culture in the developed nations. Let’s not forget that India leads the way in female politicians, female police force, nurses and actually female professionals (granted due to a large population to some extent). I generally find women from developing nations to be go-getters and not as entitled as us. Yes – I have lived and travelled across India and gender equality varies by state and community type. However, where India and developing nations are making progress, our culture seems to live to fixed stereotypes on female roles.

  35. @Mac – very casual way to discuss rape when the West (US) leads the figure in sexual abuse of women. Just be careful of comments and perception. The only reason our media doesn’t cover it in the USA is because it’s not sensational news. Hence, we don’t hear about it. Also, I think you are highly misinformed if you think being a woman in difficult in India – clearly you would benefit from stepping into the shoes of a woman. Ireland is also a country that leads the figure on sexual abuse of when hence Irish men are considered highly ill-mannered. Did you know that? Probably not.

  36. @Mitch, I think that @Lucky was suggesting that United makes a greater effort to attract female pilots. Give the low percentages, the difference would be statistically significant even with your “rounding” of 3.6% to 5% and 7.4% to 6%. I’m guessing that math wasn’t your thing in school. But, lucky for you (no pun intended), I did a little better in math and I can tell you that 7.4% is more than TWICE 3.6%. Go ahead, check that out with any of your friends who do math.

    So, my conclusion would be that United, to have more than twice the number of female pilots, is trying harder than Southwest to attract them. Now, you would clearly prefer to be negative and suggest that Southwest is discriminating. Either way, there is a difference in the outcomes and, therefore, likely the effort of the two airlines. I for one think it would be nice if Untidy is doing something right.

    And, please, lay off @lucky for being surprised. Raise your hand if you knew it was India. Oh, look, I don’t see many hands up. I also think @lucky dead on as to why. Look at the pilots (or almost any profession) in emerging vs. established economies. They’re way younger, in general, than established economies and, therefore, there are more women.

    I suppose that had we all thought deeply about it we would have concluded the country with the most female pilots would be a large emerging economy. But how many of you had? Again, not a lot of hands out there. Seriously, give the guy some credit for thinking about it now and growing. This kind of reaction is why people don’t ask the questions they need to ask to learn.

  37. @sja Thank you for your positive comment. I’ve heard many good things and bad things about being a women in India. I have a very strong desire to visit and see what is true and what is false.

  38. @Nicola

    You just broke one more Italian stereotype, besides eating pizza and pasta.
    You type a lot, and you respond to comments. You don’t seem to be LAZY.

  39. I didn’t know this previously, but I’m not really surprised as most developing countries are breaking sex equality records for the top 10% why we in the West (I’m British), are still wondering why women cannot get access to the board rooms that matter, and deciding whether to pay women equally or not!

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