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Airline captain’s flight to Kauai changed her life

As a pilot for U.S. Airways since 1986, Linda Christopherson, has flown and landed planes throughout the United States including Oahu, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii, Canada and Mexico.

But the first time she saw Kauai, her life changed. It was 2009, she was flying a Boeing 757 with 190 passengers on board.

“We broke out of the clouds at about 1,000 feet and I saw the island for the first time. My hair just stood on end and I had goose bumps,” she says. “I knew in an instant that this is where I was supposed to be.”

Puzzled at her reaction because she had always felt emotionally grounded wherever she lived her whole life, Linda’s feeling that Kauai was her new home stuck strongly with her that entire first day. “Even after we landed, all day I couldn’t get rid of the goose bumps. They just kept popping back up,” she says.

Five years later, the only route Linda flies for U.S. Airways is from her headquarters in Phoenix to Kauai.

“The airplane I fly goes to three other islands, Maui, the Big Island and Oahu, and sometimes to Cancun, Mexico and Washington, D.C., but I only fly to Kauai,” she says. “If I get assigned to fly to another island, I call up the pilot who got assigned to Kauai and I say, ‘Switch me!’ They are very accommodating; it’s a small brotherhood on this airplane.” Besides, she says, “the guys all know my love for this island.”

She’s doing her best to make Kauai her home. Lively, warm and friendly, Linda has friends all over the island with whom she has dinner and golf dates every time she lands. She has her own truck here and this month brought a bicycle over from Arizona. She helps out at the weekly Lydgate Park beach clean-up whenever she’s in town on a Saturday morning and was recently honored with a palm tree planted in her honor by beach steward John Lydgate who is grandson of the beach park’s founder. She even has a Hawaiian drivers license.

One time Linda and her co-pilot even borrowed two dogs from the Kauai Humane Society and took them for a walk along Kapaa’s walk and bike path to support the humane society’s program to exercise dogs that are up for adoption.

“My dog got really hot with the “Adopt Me” vest she was wearing. She was panting a lot so I took the vest off her and put it on my co-pilot!” she says. “People were coming up to him asking, “What breed are you?”

Youngest Female Captain

Linda’s pursuit of her passion for flying airplanes has led her to set or be part of at least two world records.

When she was first hired by Frontier Airlines in 1986, after her training but while she was still on reserve, she received a call from Frontier’s scheduling department: “Hey, you need to get to the airport. The co-pilot is sick and you need to fly to El Paso and back.”

Twenty-six years old and being asked to make her first official flight for the airline, “I was thinking, ‘This is going to be so great!’ “

Upon arriving at the airport, Linda learned that Emily Howell Warner – the first woman ever hired as a pilot by a United States airline – and Linda’s idol – will be her captain.

“Emily Howell Warner’s pilot’s uniform is in the Smithsonian Museum. I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ “ Linda says.

“Emily says to me, ‘Linda, come on, we’re late! Let’s go!’ We got in the airplane, took off for El Paso, got there, landed. Then she tells me, ‘You’re flying it back.’ “

After taking a deep breath, Linda takes control of the Boeing 737 and begins flying it back to Denver. As the plane gets up to altitude, Emily says she is going to make an announcement to the passengers that Linda needs to listen to.

“Emily says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. I’m turning off the seat belt sign. I do have a little bit of an announcement to make. We’re making history today. Today is the first time there has ever been an all-female flight crew.’ “ Both pilots and all three flight attendants were women.

Being part of that flight crew was clearly an auspicious start to Linda’s career. Only three years later, at the age of 29, while flying for American West Airlines, she became the youngest female captain for a major U.S. airline. “But I’m sure some sweet young thing has probably beaten that by now,” she says laughing.

Then, shortly after she first flew to Kauai in 2009, she captained her own all-female flight crew. “As soon as we landed we all went out to celebrate at the hotel where we stay on Kauai, had a barbecue and made s’mores!”

Teaching students

Captain Linda enjoys sharing her love of flying with students at career days and as a guest speaker in classrooms, appearing in uniform and inspiring children with stories of her life as a pilot. She has even built a flight simulator for elementary school-age kids that they can sit in and pretend to push buttons.

“I talk to them about staying off drugs, staying in school, that your parents are your first sponsor in life and to treat them well,” she says. “It is fun.”

One time she spoke to a class of brilliant elementary school students who were learning on a computerized flight simulator that was so elaborate it could do things a bit beyond the reality of today’s airplanes.

“The students would say, ‘Captain Linda! Captain Linda! Come watch me fly this airplane and tell me what I’m doing wrong. Every time I get to this one part, the airplane spins out of control.’ I’d say, ‘That’s because you’re flying at 90,000 feet. You’re not the space shuttle. Try staying a little lower.’ “

Another boy told her that every time he came in for a landing on the electronic flight simulator the airplane “crashes for no reason.” Linda advised him, “You can’t come in at 200 mph. You’ve got to slow down.”

I would truly be home

Captain Linda is enjoying every moment of her life while fondly envisioning the day when she will make Kauai her permanent home.

Months before I met her, Linda had even consulted a Feng Shui expert in Arizona about how to create the life she desires. The expert recommended that she place a “nice, loving, warm book” on her Phoenix bedroom nightstand. Linda chose the book “Kauai Stories.”

“Kauai is the only place I’ve ever considered moving,” she says. “If I lived here, I would be truly home.”

 

Pamela Varma Brown is the publisher of “Kauai Stories,” and the forthcoming “Kauai Stories 2.”

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