For La Cañada resident Janine Purdy, the love of flying dates to her childhood in Tehachapi, when the family used to pack themselves into her father’s Beechcraft Bonanza single-engine plane and take off on weekend trips.
“That was the only way we could get to places we wanted to vacation at,” she recalled of flights to Mammoth, Arizona and Idaho, sometimes accessible only via grass runways. “I always flew around in it and loved it.”
That love was strong as ever when, at 17, Purdy pursued her private pilot’s license, a process that involved a written test, flight training and cross-country solo trips. She later attended San Jose State University’s aviation program and earned a coveted internship with United Airlines.
“If you completed it successfully, then you were guaranteed an interview with the airline whenever you wanted to do it,” she said. “One of the hardest things [in the industry] is to get the interview.”
Naturally, Purdy succeeded. However, it would take the aviatrix several more years to acquire the 1,500 hours of flight time necessary to even talk to a United recruiter. But once she got there, everything fell into place.
She became a United Airlines pilot in 2000 at age 27, a rare accomplishment for women who, in 2017, comprised just 6.38% of commercial pilots in the United States, according to data from the Federal Flight Administration’s Aeronautical Center.
Father Bob Mitchell attributes his daughter’s achievements to a deep-seated love of flying.
“You’ve got to have a certain love for it, and Janine’s always had that,” said the Bakersfield resident, who still occasionally flies. “Once it gets in your blood, it never leaves. Being in the air and looking down at the world around you — if you don’t believe in God, just be a pilot.”
In 2002, Purdy, by then married, became pregnant with her first child and used an employee furlough to go on maternity leave.
Her absence from flying grew longer as she stayed home with son Ryan, then gave birth to daughter Tatum in 2006 and Maya in 2008. Husband Matt, who worked in medical sales, brought home a paycheck while she watched after the kids.
Purdy applied the same determination, organizational skills and attention to detail that had helped her excel as a pilot to raising children. Even as she got periodic calls to return to work, thoughts of being in the cockpit took a backseat.
And then, this March, one phone call changed everything — a United representative asked one last time if she’d like to return to flying, informing her that her status as an employee would otherwise expire.
Purdy and her husband joked about how funny it would be if she said yes, but eventually talks about her return to flying became serious. She figured she owed it to her children and to her fellow stay-at-home mom friends to take a chance.
“I have so many friends who’ve stayed home to raise their kids and are terrified to go back to work. They’re so scared they’re not qualified to do things anymore,” she said. “And I had kids at home — I figured if I don’t go after this, I wouldn’t know if I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”
A rigorous two-month training in Denver turned the Purdy household on its head as Matt Purdy worked and looked after the kids.
“That was overwhelming stuff, and she was able to do it pretty well,” he recalled of her training. “I’m so proud of her — we have two daughters, and it’s nice they have somebody they can look up to. That’s what she wanted to do. And she set out and did it.”
These days, Janine Purdy’s 19-year seniority allows her to work part-time and select trips that fit nicely into her home routine. She admits feeling a thrill when she’s flying to Hawaii and sees Maui’s green island runway break through the clouds.
It reminds her that while chances are risky and take a lot of work, they sometimes pay off.
“It’s definitely worth it,” she said. “The people I work with, the places I get to go — there aren’t many professions like this.”