Lynn Barton was born in 1956 and fell in love with flying as a child after a flight in a light aircraft.
Her dream was to become a pilot and she began flying lessons whilst doing her A-levels in 1973. It was then she applied to British Airways (BA) to be part of their cadet training programme. At that time though there were no equal employment legislations and the airline didn’t accept applications from females.
When Lynn had completed her A-levels she began work at a flying school and trained to become a flying instructor in 1978. Later the same year BA began recruiting for their training school, Lynn applied again was finally accepted.
“When I went through, in 1979, I was the only female. In fact, of the 150 recruits trained at that time where was only one other flying instructor. I think I got my place because they didn’t want to take a chance on someone with very little flying experience,” Lynn explained.
After her training Barton went back to being a flying instructor as there were no vacancies within BA at the time. While waiting for a vacancy to become available she worked for Air UK and her first experience flying a jet was with Dan Air.
“Jobs were very scarce at that time, but Dan Air had the first female jet captain and she had just retired when I got an interview. Although it was very unusual at that time with very few female pilots.”
She finally began working for British Airways on October 31, 1987 aged 30 and was selected as the airlines first female pilot. Due to her flying experience she went straight on to flying long-haul on the Boeing 747.
And Lynn’s triumph meant that within a year, 60 of British Airways’ 3,000 pilots were female.
Lynn described how passengers perception of a female flying the plane was at times incredibly sexist: “The reaction from the public varied from interest to surprise. I remember when I had just started on the jumbo and I was flying the sector, I made the PA. Bearing mind that it was a minimum three crew with flight engineer as well, during the cruise the Captain went down to chat to first class passengers. One of the older lady passengers took one look at him and said, “my goodness you haven’t left her up there on her own have you?” in a very worried voice!”
Lynn became captain with BA in 1996.
On March 27, 2008 she made history once again when she became the first to fly in to Heathrow’s newly built Terminal 5, British Airways’ £4.3bn new home. Barton was in command of flight BA026 from Hong Kong and had bid for the flight a month earlier. She said: “It was my husband’s idea to bid for the flight, but the timing meant I had to tear myself off the beach and find a computer so that I could apply through the airline’s flight-bidding system. I never thought I’d be in with a chance of actually getting the flight. I found out when I got back from my holiday and was absolutely thrilled. Terminal 5 has been the focus of the airline’s future for several years now, and to operate the very first flight is a huge honour. I can’t wait.”
Eight years after making history again Lynn finally hung up her wings and retired from her role in 2016.
Sadly, even today female pilots are rare despite airlines like British Airways, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic initiating various female pilot recruitment drives. But gender stereotypes should never stop anyone from following their child hood dream.
“I never thought of being anything other than a pilot when I was growing up,” Lynn said.
© Jet Back In Time by Lee Cross