26 SEP 2018: Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to go to Seattle to ‘pick-up’ Sunwing’s newest plane, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 right from the factory. The first officer on the flight was one of Sunwing’s newest and youngest pilots, Jessalyn Teed, who was eight years old when she first decided she wanted to be a pilot. We had an opportunity to chat with Teed and found an inspiring story for women who might be looking at a career in the cockpit.

“It was my eighth birthday, and I was up at a cottage with my aunt and uncle, and there was this free "kids can fly day" at the Gravenhurst Airport. It was also their anniversary, so they thought it might be a good idea to go - something special to do," said Teed.

“I was the last one in line.” She says, and remembers thinking, “we came all this way, I'm not gonna get to go up...’ But I did, and being the last one worked in my favour.”

The plane was a little Cessna 172, a four-seater. “I wasn't scared at all, I was so excited, and because I was the last one I got a full hour, then when we came down - again because I was the last one - I got to be a part of the cake cutting. It was this big airport event for me and thought, ‘I love this.’”

“So, I went home and told my parents all about it and said, ‘I think I want to be a pilot’ and it never changed. From that day on.”

Teed’s father was working on his pilot's license, but other than that no one in the family was in aviation, though he had friends in the industry and she ended up going up almost every other weekend one summer with a neighbour “in his small little plane.”

“I just got exposed to different parts of the industry through him and through other people I got connected to, and my parents were always so supportive.” Said Teed, who used to often go to Waterloo Airport, “to sit there and watch airplanes with my Dad. That was a hobby. That was a pastime.”

Teed gives full credit to her parents for their support. “Once they found out that I wanted to do it, they were always looking out for local air shows, and in one summer I'd go to three or four air shows. I loved it.”

Of a career in flying, her father told her, "You know what, you can do this. If that's what you want to do - go for it."

However, Teed had a plan and that did not include flying lessons in high school.

“I could have,” she told us, “I could have started really early, but I decided that I wanted to go to university, because I liked school and because I wanted to have a degree to fall back on. If any day I lose my medical, or I decide I don't want to do this anymore, I have a degree.”

Teed got a degree in environmental science. “It's a Bachelor in Geography at the University of Waterloo, and they happened to have a joint program between the aviation department and the geography department so you do both your university degree and your flight training at the same time.

“So, that's really why I held off on flying in high school, because I knew I wanted to do a program like (the one at Waterloo) where it was kind of coupled together. It's almost like a double degree.”

Teed admits she, “had to grind through” all the necessary math, science and physics courses, but she says, “I didn't love it, but I had this goal in mind and had to do it, and that’s what got me through.

“I always knew, ‘this is what I want to do’ and that's different from other university students who kind of go in not knowing what they might do after they finish, but when you go into this program, you know you're going to come out a pilot. It's a very specific end goal.”

Teed fast-tracked the four year course in three years, “because we had to stay during the summer for flying anyway and we started flying our first year, I thought if I'm staying for flying, I might as well do courses at the same time and then get out faster.”

In her third year of University, Teed wrote her undergraduate thesis in, “Human Factors of Aviation.” She was excited to take on, “a topic relevant to my position as well as expand my knowledge of human factors, the aviation industry and learning styles. The title of this study “Best Classroom Practices for the Millennial Generation: Pilot Shortage in the Aviation Industry” was a great way to finish off my degree, and became very relevant to the next steps in my personal path, as well as the direction of the industry with the pilot shortage and upcoming cadet programs.”

Having completed her program and Teed was interested in the cadet programs that Sunwing and Jazz were involved in with the University.

“I really wanted Sunwing.” Said Teed, “I applied in my final year, and basically got the job in my final term of school, graduated in August and then started here two weeks later. A whirlwind!”

After some months of training at the ground school and on the simulator, “there is a pilot proficiency check at the end - that's your big exam - I began flying in November.”

We asked about Medical checks and Teed said they were necessary for her degree and have to be kept up regularly after that.

“Do pilots have to be a certain height or certain weight or anything?” we asked. Not anymore, said Teed.

We also asked the 22 year old Teed, whether she gets comments from passengers.

There are definitely some passengers who say things like, "Who is this little girl flying our plane?" Says Teed, who seems unruffled by it all, “One day I had this guy peek around the corner and was like ‘What are you, 17?’"

She laughs off such remarks, and having flown with her I can attest to her competence and professionalism.

In 2017 Teed received the Rising Star award from The Northern Lights Aero Foundation. Each year this not-for-profit foundation honours outstanding women who have made a significant contribution in their field in aviation and aerospace and who continue to lay the groundwork to attract other women to enter or excel in these industries.

But, flying is still essentially a man’s game. Teed told us her class started off with six females, and four graduated. There were about 40 men and it’s probable that 24 or so will graduate (remember, she fast tracked). “The ratio’s small but getting better,” she says.

Teed loves flying, she is passionate about it and she wants women to know that being a pilot is an attainable goal for women. And she doesn’t just ‘talk the talk…’

“Because I was really involved at the Waterloo Flight Center, and that's where I did all my flight training, and I worked dispatch there, I volunteered at events they run called "Girls Can Fly Day."

“We take little girls from ages eight to sixteen and we take them up on free flights. It's the most fantastic thing. My first year, I was there just running booths and offering volunteer help around the whole event.

“Second year, I actually got to be one of the pilots flying these girls. That was one of the most amazing experiences I've had because I took up three girls at a time for about four hours and did a circuit, and they were all so excited and so was I, because I was thinking, this could be where they get the bug because this is exactly what I did. I might be flying the next eight year-old girl who's like, "Oh, I want to be a pilot because I did this!

“That was an amazing opportunity. Then this past year I actually got to go back and I was in my Sunwing uniform, and it has been kind of a cool progression. It was great to be there and I hope to go next year too.”

Teed doesn’t take anything for granted, her love of the job and enthusiasm are so obvious, “Sometimes I still walk around the plane, and I'm like ‘Whoa’.” She says with a grin.

She is now a first officer and it will probably take about three to four years for her to become a captain.

“I have to get a certain number of hours before I can qualify for that. But I’m working hard. Because I started so young, I have a lot of hours to build up.”

She currently flies about 15-17 days a month. A lot of it to the Caribbean and in summer on domestic flights. She particularly likes flying to Cuba and Jamaica.

Is the job, what you expected it to be? we asked.

“Yes, and more,” said Teed immediately.

“I definitely narrowed it down at first from "oh, I get to fly planes," which is a narrow perspective and I didn't really think about the lifestyle when I first thought, "oh, I'm gonna go work for an airline."

“That was something that was a bit of a transition for me and an adjustment from university where you're very scheduled. You have classes and your friends's group, and it's stable. Then you get to something like this, and you're meeting new people every day, it's a huge learning curve going from a small plane to a jet, so that's another challenge. Then on top of that, the hours. I don't have a typical 9-5.”

You have to be both very flexible and disciplined she says, but she goes in every day knowing she is in a dynamic job and loving it.

Next for Teed is getting her hours and getting her captain upgrade.

“This is already a big step, and I know I'm going to be learning so much for the next three to four years.

“I learn something new every time I go in, but I'm feeling confident in my skills and I'm excited to keep building that confidence as I get exposed to more things. Like I said, it's so dynamic, every day is different. You're dealing with different weather, different crew, maybe a different airport.”

Has anything happened that made you concerned? We asked.

“No. There have definitely been some things that caught me off guard when I was first in my training, but they are so good about the training here, so for the first month I was with the same captain for the whole time. I had that consistency and he knew what to look for in terms of what I might be missing or a little nervous about.”

And as for flying back with the 737 MAX 8, it was “an amazing opportunity! Boeing really rolls out the red carpet, right?” she says. (They do!)

Sunwing has quite a few female captains, “I've gotten to fly with two. It's actually really fun flying with another female captain because you have, usually, a whole female crew in the backend as well so it's fun.” Says Teed.

How do the passengers react? Teed says she always wonders what they are thinking. There are still so many people with a fixed mindset - they look at female, pilots and are like, "Can you fly this thing?"

The answer to that is, of course, “Yes, she can.”

So, for all the little girls and young women who dream of growing up and flying planes – Jessalyn Teed is a shining example. A 22 year-old young woman with grit and determination and a passion for flying who made her dream come true.

Related story: Boeing 737 MAX Joins the Sunwing Fleet

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Jen Savedra

Jen Savedra is the founder and editor of Travel Industry Today with  a long career and considerable experience in various sectors of travel and tourism. She is dedicated to producing a publication that differentiates itself from the pack. One that pulls no punches, and - along with being a forum for news and ideas - is easy to navigate and always fun to read.

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