Progressive Path

Fleet captain charted her own course to behind the cockpit.

Flight plan for a fulfilling career  

When you grow up traveling the world with a father who serves as an Air Force fighter pilot, flying for a career becomes part of your dreams, and it’s what I always thought I’d want to do if I ever had the opportunity.

Now, after 25 years of flying with American, I’m thankful for the incredible opportunity to see the world from a cockpit and experience high-flying adventures on the ground.

Upon graduating from high school, I entered the U.S. Air Force Academy with the second class that admitted women for what I thought would be a medical career. But, female pilot training became available when I was a junior, and I jumped at the chance to be at the controls. I completed pilot undergraduate training at Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix and graduated in the top 10 percent of my class. This qualified me for fighter pilot training, but it wasn’t an option for women at the time. So, I went back to being a Northrop T-38 Talon instructor for another six years at Williams, and upon separating from the military, I was blessed to be able to go straight to American Airlines in 1988.

When I started my career at American, the hiring process was very different than what the incoming group of 1,500 pilots will experience over the next five years. For one, computers weren’t widely available, so my application was submitted through the mail. Then, there was the travel back and forth for interviews, medical checks and simulator training. It took almost a year to go from applicant to pilot. These days, applications are filtered online, everything is computerized and it takes only a few months to join our team.

American was my first choice because the company has always been supportive of diversity and different cultures, and it’s a company that supports its people. I also had confidence that American would one day grant me the seniority to fly the type of plane I wanted, offer the freedom to choose where I live and allow me to travel the world – which is one of my biggest hobbies in addition to flying. As a female pilot, I knew I wouldn’t be held back in any way. That remains truer than ever, as I’ve now been in my current position as the Boeing 737 Fleet Captain for a little more than a year.

As an American pilot, I have numerous fond memories and incredible stories to tell. There was the long layover in Rio de Janeiro where I went hang gliding; squeezed in a tour of the Panama Canal during a quick trip to Panama City, Panama; and of course, early in my career when I flew an all-nighter, and despite being so tired, our crew stayed up to visit Disney’s Epcot Center together.

I also find it fulfilling that American provides a lot of opportunities to give back to the community. In particular, I love that American is very supportive of military and veterans. Each fall, we work with the Airpower Foundation to host Sky Ball, a fundraiser and gala that supports military families and organizations. We also fly wounded warriors up to Dallas/Fort Worth from San Antonio to sit courtside at a Dallas Mavericks game for the annual Seats for Soldiers event, and our flight crews always volunteer their time. And, I can’t forget the hundreds of volunteers each December who make new memories possible for families of fallen military with Snowball Express.

It’s exciting to be part of a company that has such a big heart, and that is one commitment I pray American will never change. 

Growing up as an “Air Force brat” of a fighter pilot, CAPT. KATHI DURST was exposed to aviation and traveling at a young age. Following a seven-year Air Force career, she joined American in 1988 and has held various positions, including flight engineer on the Boeing 727 and DC-10, first officer on the MD-80 and Boeing 757/767, and captain on the 727, 737, 757/767 and Airbus A300 based at Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Dallas-Ft. Worth. She moved into her current role as American’s Boeing 737 fleet captain in 2012. Durst lives in Las Colinas, Texas, with her spouse, Sheri, a retired American flight attendant.

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