Meet The Mother-Daughters Delta Pilot Family Breaking Glass Ceiling At 30,000 Feet

Photo: GMA
Who Are Wendy Rexon, Kate Rexon And Kelly Jacobsen? New Details On The Mother-Daughters Delta Pilot Family Breaking Glass Ceiling At 30,000 Feet
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Every time they’re scheduled to fly, Wendy Rexon and her daughter Kelly Jacobsen inspect nearly every external inch of their 200,000-pound Boeing 757 before heading out for their Delta flights. Kate Rexon, Wendy’s other daughter, also inspects her aircraft, the Airbus A320. Aviation, it seems, is their "family business.” Who are Wendy Rexon, Kate Rexon, and Kelly Jacobsen?

1. Their story went viral from a tweet by a doctor on one of their flights.

Dr. John R. Watret was flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta on March 16 when he learned that his flight's pilots were actually a mother-daughter team, Captain Wendy Rexon and her daughter, First Officer Kelly Rexon. He tweeted this information and overnight, it went viral, garnering over 42,000 likes and 16,000 retweets. (Even the official Delta Twitter account re-tweeted, “Family flight crew goals!” Adorable).

2. Kelly and Kate are both third-generation pilots.

Their mother, Wendy, flies with them on Delta; their father, Michael, flies with American Airlines; and Wendy’s father, Bill Brown, used to fly with Northwest Airlines, according to Yahoo Canada Style. Kelly, who started flying at 16, actually taught her younger sister, Kate, how to fly. In an interview with Good Morning America, Kate shared, "Kelly was my instructor...I didn't treat her like a sister because at that point, you know, she wasn't," Kate responded. "She was my teacher and that I think it made us both grow." Kate said she "dabbled" in other career aspirations, but she too ultimately fell in love with aviation.

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3. Kelly and Wendy were the first mother-daughter crew at Delta.

And on their first flight together in February out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, they had a mechanical emergency. The flight was taking off for Los Angeles when smoke and fumes materialized in the cockpit, not an exceedingly rare occurrence, but an event that requires the plane to divert before conditions worsen. Wendy and Kelly decided they were going to return to JFK. They landed safely, and the airline eventually got the passengers to Los Angeles, but it was Wendy's first time seeing her daughter pilot an emergency landing.

4. Wendy started piloting at 16.

Wendy credits programs at airlines around the country, like Delta's "Women Inspiring our Next Generation," which promotes careers in aviation to young women. The issue, she said, boils down to a lack of awareness. "We're honored to be advocates for young women to join the field, and just the industry in general," said Kelly, alongside her mother and sister.

Wendy describes the opportunity for her daughters as a safer alternative to other temptations: "Other parents would say, 'How can you let your children fly airplanes?' Boy, I'd much rather give them the keys to the airplane than go with their friends out late at night to parties. You know, driving in the cars."

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5. Only 7% of U.S. carrier pilots are women, according to 2017 data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

There are more than 40,000 flights per day in the U.S., but the chances of seeing a female pilot are less than 1 in 10. The first woman to fly a commercial airliner in 1934 was Helen Richey, but she quit that job after ten months because the all-male pilot's union would not admit her and she rarely got to fly.

Unreasonably but also unsurprisingly, there are some radical passengers who absolutely won’t fly an airplane piloted by a woman. In 1991, a passenger on SN Brussels Airlines refused to fly on a plane piloted by Barbara Collinet. Even as recently as 2016, seven passengers from an American Airlines flight en route from Miami to Buenos Aires disembarked when they learned that their crew was an all-woman crew. People are just so crazy about women solely serving drinks and blankets that they’d be willing to leave a flight to prove their point.

6. More stories are featured in an exhibition in the Delta Flight Museum.

The aviation industry conformed to the gender roles of other transportation industries and the military began to dominate training for pilots and aviation mechanics. The Half the Sky exhibit, on view through December 2019 at the Delta Flight Museum, explores through stories, artifacts, and images, how women of courage stood up against an industry that thought they could only serve in certain roles. 

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Leah Scher is an ENFP and recent graduate of Brandeis University. She's an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writer's Workshop the Iowa Young Writers' Studio. She's passionate about Judaism, poetry, film, satire, astrology, spirituality, and sexual health.