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Emily Howell Warner (1939–2020), first female pilot for a U.S. commercial airline

by Linnea Crowther

Emily Howell Warner was a professional pilot who was the first woman hired by a U.S. commercial airline as a permanent pilot, in 1973.

Trailblazing career

Warner was a teenager training to be a flight attendant when her interest in flying was sparked. She began taking flying lessons, and within a year, she had earned her private pilot license. Warner worked as an airborne traffic reporter and as a flight instructor for years, watching the men she taught get jobs at commercial airlines. She became determined to do the same, and she began applying for commercial pilot positions in 1968. It was 1973 before Frontier Airlines made the historic decision to hire her. Within five years, about 300 more women had been hired as commercial pilots.

In 1976, Warner earned her captain’s wings and became the first female captain flying for a U.S. commercial airline. In 1986, she led the first all-female flight crew in the U.S. In later years, Warner worked as an examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration. Warner was honored with the Amelia Earhart Award and membership in the National Women’s Hall of Fame and National Aviation Hall of Fame. Her uniform hangs in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.


Warner on opening doors for other women in aviation

“After I got hired by an airline, then another airline hired a woman, and then pretty soon, some other airlines were hiring women. There’s a lot of women pilots now. We’re taking over.” —from a 2018 interview with the Denver Channel

What people said about her

Full obituary: The Denver Post

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