Earlier this week, Fort Worth-based American Airlines celebrated its first female first officer, hired 50 years ago. In March of 1973, the carrier offered Bonnie Tiburzi a position as a first officer.
As the first woman to fly for a commercial airline at the age of 24, Tiburzi was a trailblazer that paved the path for women in the flight deck. A year before she was hired, she wrote to every major airline in the US asking for a job, only to be turned down by every carrier except American.
Breaking barriers bravely
In a statement, the oneworld airline said Tiburzi set an example for aspiring female aviators.
“Bonnie bravely broke barriers in the male-dominated profession and paved the path for women aviators to follow. As we celebrate 50 years since she started flying for American, we honor the women that inspired her and those she has inspired to take the controls on the flight deck.”
Tiburzi joined American's team along with over 200 other male pilots in 1973. While some individuals did not want her there, she said the carrier as a whole went out of its way to make her feel like an equal part of the team, recalling the first moment she felt accepted.
"At that time, crew lounges were separated – one for male crew members, the other for female flight attendants, she said. "On my first flight, I didn't know exactly which crew lounge I was supposed to go into. But as I got closer, I saw that some of the pilots put a sign outside the male crew lounge that said, "and Bonnie, too." That was the moment I knew I was accepted."
Tiburzi did not get hired on the spot, however. As she received rejection letters from other carriers, American sent her a different letter that was handwritten, informing her that they could not hire her at the time because they had a number of pilots on furlough.
The airline also requested in the letter that Tiburzi would keep them updated on her job-hunting progress — which she did.
"Every month, I sent a letter with my flight time and what aircraft I had been flying,she explained. "I always received an encouraging letter back. When the time was right, they hired me."
A five-decade-long legacy
Reflecting on her legacy, Tiburzi said the aviation industry has been her life. She grew up with the desire to follow in the footsteps of her dad, a pilot, and her brother, who also became a pilot. Additionally, Tiburzi's grandfather owned a manufacturing company that made airplane parts.
"Women had been around since the beginning of aviation, but I think the important part was that when I was hired, it was the first time female pilots were paid the same as their male counterparts in the aviation industry. That's significant. The industry is making progress, and I believe it will continue to make progress."
The Bonnie Award
Tiburzi said it is heartwarming that American honors her five decades later.
"I'm extremely proud that American remembers me and that I can still play a role in aviation. It's heartwarming, really. Women have grown up knowing that if they want to get involved in a male-dominated field, they have to try harder, work harder and be better, just to be equal."
In partnership with the Film Independent Spirit Awards, American announced "The Bonnie Award" in 2017. It is presented each year with a $50,000 grant to up-and-coming female film directors.
"The idea that we're rewarding women who have persevered in the pursuit of their dreams is exciting, Tiburzi said. "And to have my name on this award is an honor."
This article originally appeared on Simple Flying