Laura Savino did not want to be a pioneer. She just wanted to fly.
But when she entered the commercial aviation industry as a pilot in the 1980s, breaking down barriers was exactly what was needed.
The Ashburn-based author published his memoir “Jet Boss” last year. Now retired from a 30-year career with United Airlines, Savino has a new career as a writer and motivational speaker with a mission to encourage girls and young women to pursue careers in aviation.
“I didn’t want to be a trailblazer or go against conventional wisdom,” Savino wrote in her memoir. “I just wanted to be a pilot.”
Savino’s career path has required hard work, out-of-the-box thinking, and overcoming obstacles. It also meant being mistaken for a flight attendant countless times. As the captain of a United flight, she remembers inviting a mother and her young daughter to visit the cockpit. After a visit filled with meaningful conversations, Savino overheard the woman say to her daughter, “It was so sweet that the flight attendant let you sit in the pilot’s seat.” When the plane takes off, she’ll come back here and you can thank her again.
It’s the kind of assumption she’s encountered time and time again over more than three decades as a pilot.
“It was too ingrained to move around easily,” Savino said.
Savino grew up in a conservative Catholic family in New Jersey, where her parents ran a clothing store. In her memoir, she remembers her mother coming home from work every day to cook dinner. Most pilots in the 70s and 80s had a family connection to aviation, she says, but she had neither.
“I had never met a pilot. My parents had never met a pilot,” Savino said.
But Savino was fascinated by airplanes from an early age, inspired in part by her hometown’s proximity to Newark International Airport. But it was a nearby regional airport that really sparked his passion. As soon as she got her driver’s license at 17, Savino drove the family station wagon to Morristown Municipal Airport, driven by irrepressible curiosity. At this airport, known as MMU, she took her first flight lesson in a Cessna.
“It was completely fascinating. It was beyond anything I had ever imagined, and then I got hooked,” Savino said.
Savino got a job at the front desk of flight school in exchange for tuition, overcoming new hurdles one step at a time on his journey to becoming a professional pilot.
“I just kept taking one tiny step at a time. I didn’t have big ambitions. … I certainly didn’t imagine myself becoming a captain with United Airlines,” she said. just make enough money to get back into the air.”
Savino was welcomed into the community of aviation professionals at the airport as she progressed from her first lesson to earning her pilot’s license.
“There’s a whole community at any airport,” she said. “I was completely accepted there as a pilot.”
During this time, Savino encountered resistance from his parents and obstacles from school officials and was reluctant to tell his school friends about his passion for aviation.
“I was a cheerleader,” Savino said. “I had two completely different worlds.”
Despite high grades and top aptitude test scores, Savino’s high school counselor discouraged her from taking high-level math and science classes for fear it would ruin her GPA. Savino had heard about Purdue University’s legendary aviation program through her network of friends at MMU and knew that was where she wanted to go. But because her high school transcript was light on STEM courses, she was not initially accepted into the aviation program. But Savino had a plan: She applied and was accepted to study art at Purdue, then worked her way through the flight program in her freshman year.
“It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy,” she said.
After graduating, Savino focused on logging the flight hours she needed to become a commercial pilot. She became a flight instructor, teaching at Purdue, MMU and other regional airports. Then she began to take charter and cargo flights, often solitary and nocturnal missions.
Savino landed his first commercial job with Eastern Airlines in 1989, but his career was cut short by the famous strike of that year. Later that year, Savino was hired by Pan Am for its domestic shuttle service in the northeast corridor, flying multiple flights each day with old-fashioned technology.
“Everything was stolen by hand,” she said. “Just this old round dial with hands.”
Savino started with United as a second officer in 1990 and got a taste of the boys’ club that aviation was at that time, with airlines filled with male pilots who considered themselves “gods of the skies. “, she said.
“Certainly there were pilots who were not happy to see me,” she said. “It was definitely a period of adjustment for everyone. The women were usually only in the cockpit to serve coffee. … I think it hurt their self-image. They had lived in a time when the pilots had this reputation of being super male, very macho. And then they see me and I’m 5’3″ and 110 pounds, and I could do their job and I could do their job well.”
But for Savino, the joy and excitement of flying outweighed the obstacles.
“Pilots really love flying planes. I’m always fascinated by that,” she said. under pressure – with hundreds of people behind you relying on the fact that you know what you are doing. ”
Her work with United brought her to Loudoun in 1993 when her hub moved from JFK to Dulles. Savino raised her two sons, now of college age, in Ashburn. And her memoir touches on the challenges of balancing parenthood with a demanding career, including a story about preschool mothers who assumed her nanny was the mother of her children. One of Savino’s sons is studying engineering at Purdue and the other is training as an aircraft mechanic.
In her interviews with local students, Savino said she was keen to focus on different types of careers in aviation.
“There are so many great careers in aviation,” she said, and Northern Virginia is a hub for the industry.
As with most aviation professionals, 9/11 was a turning point for Savino – and the event that inspired her to launch a career as a writer after losing friends and colleagues on two United flights and two American Airlines flights on September 11, 2001. Savino had just returned to work from maternity leave after giving birth to her youngest son and was at a training facility in Denver preparing to transition from co-pilot to captain. She watched events unfold in a hotel conference room surrounded by colleagues and was determined to tell the story of that day from a pilot’s perspective.
‘It was such a devastating time for me, my friends and my family,’ she said, but also a day of cooperation and solidarity as airlines worked to land thousands of planes safely. under uncertain circumstances.
In addition to his writing career, Savino reaches out to future pilots by sharing his story. Her lectures target students from all walks of life, but she particularly focuses on promoting the representation of women in aviation. While women have made huge strides in many STEM fields, they are still severely underrepresented in aviation, she says. While other industries have made strenuous efforts to attract women to their fields, aviation has been left behind. The percentage of female commercial pilots fell from 6% to just 7% between 2005 and 2020 according to FAA statistics, part of what industry experts call the “flat effect.” Barriers include industry culture, recruitment strategies and educational biases, according to a 2022 report by the FAA’s Women in Aviation Advisory Council, but there is a scale-up effort industry to increase the numbers.
“Airlines are trying to diversify now,” Savino said.
By sharing her story and her journey towards achieving her dream, Savino strives to help young women get into STEM fields and see aviation as a viable career choice. She attends the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum’s popular SHE Can Steam Camp for DMV low-income college students. Savino has also booked speaking engagements at Loudoun schools and at community events.
“I never really thought about the amazing women who came before me and opened doors for me,” she said. “As I got older and wiser, I kind of became the woman I wish I had known when I was young.”
“Jet Boss” is available on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. Laura Savino is due for a reading and signing at Barnes and Noble at Tysons Corner on Saturday June 11. For more on Savino and “Jet Boss”, visit laurasavino747.com.