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Women’s History Month Spotlight: Captain Kelli Bidstrup

April 3, 2024

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Captain Kelli Bidstrup

March is Women’s History Month – a time to celebrate women’s contributions to our nation and communities. It’s also a time to recognize our team members and highlight their stories in the aviation industry and beyond.

Today, we present Kelli Bidstrup, a PHL-based Captain who started her aviation career as a gate agent and never thought she would be a pilot, but one discovery ride later, she was hooked.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we talked with Kelli about her love for aviation, her heroes, and the advice she gives to those who aspire to fly.

What was your journey to aviation and PSA?

I started out as a gate agent at ORD for another American regional carrier. I had absolutely no interest in being a pilot when I started; it wasn’t even an idea in my head. After about one year in that role and talking to countless pilots, it began to sound interesting. My friend had just gotten his Private Pilot’s License (PPL) and offered to take me for a ride, and after that, I was hooked.

I worked double shifts to pay for my training, and once I got my PPL, I moved out to Arizona to finish my training and instructed students there to get the rest of my hours. It was March 2020 when I had enough hours to begin applying to airlines, and everyone stopped hiring because of COVID. I knew I wanted to work for one of the American Airlines regionals, and when hiring opened again, PSA seemed like a good fit. PSA also has all the CRJs I worked with as a gate agent. It’s still a weird feeling when I recognize tail numbers from six years ago and remember how far I’ve come!

Also, I can show young girls this is a valid career option. Just the other day, I had a girl, maybe four years old, shyly walk up to say “hello” to me. I asked her if she wanted to see the flight deck, and all shyness vanished once she saw the buttons and lights – she started smiling and pointing. Her dad started talking about flight lessons, and while I knew it was a joke, what if that was enough for a young girl to start dreaming about being a pilot?

In light of Women’s History Month, who are your heroes or women you admire, and why?

I don’t have a specific hero, but I admire all women who are willing to enter a field where they may be the only woman. For example, people like Emily Warren Roebling who was behind the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband became too ill. And Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the shape of DNA.

What motivates you, and what do you love most about the aviation industry and flying?

I’m motivated by knowing that there is always room for improving myself. I think every day is a chance to learn something and that we should all be open to learning something new.

The thing I love most is that no two days are the same. Some days turn into puzzles where we have to get everything aligned to make it work, and while it can be difficult at the time, I love the challenge. I also get to go out and see things that I never would have seen on my own time and meet friends I wouldn’t have crossed paths with anywhere else.

What advice would you have for women and girls who aspire to be where you are in your career?

Surround yourself with people who know what you are going through. Aviation is a different kind of industry, and having different mentors has helped me succeed. Navigating the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and all the rules is overwhelming when you don’t know what you don’t know. If you are already in aviation, seek out pilots you have a good relationship with. If you are trying to get into the industry, places like your local chapter of Women in Aviation are good places to start.

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