All in the Family

Kristin Long is the third generation in her family to work in the aviation industry – but the first captain

Kristin-LongCareers in aviation seem to run in the family – “it’s like teachers; it’s almost a 50 per cent chance that one of your kids will become a teacher,” says Kristin Long, a captain at WestJet and third-generation member of the industry. Her grandfather worked for Trans-Canada Air Lines (Air Canada) when it first began operations.

History has repeated itself several times in Kristin’s lifetime; her parents met at an Air Canada Christmas mixer (both were staff) and Kristin’s husband is a fellow pilot. But a career as a pilot doesn’t just fall into someone’s lap like an inheritance.

Kristin started out as a flight attendant for Air Canada with her sister. “I just loved getting on the airplane… being part of the crew,” she remembers.

Since she was a kid, Kristin has always loved planes and wondered what it might be like to be at the helm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t, so that became my dream,” she explains.

While pursuing a bachelor of science at the University of British Columbia, and working as a summer employee at Air Canada, her childhood dream resurfaced. “I thought, ‘You know what? You’ve just got to follow your dream. You’ve just got to try.’”

So, she picked up her private licence in ground school during her last year of university, and enrolled in a diploma program in Abbotsford at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) to work toward her commercial licence.

Kristin successfully applied for a handful of scholarships throughout her journey, including the Women in Aviation International/Bombardier CRJ Type Rating scholarship, but financial assistance came in an unlikely form at one point during her training.

Fate intervenes
The acceptance letter from the aviation diploma program at UFV had been misdirected, and by the time she got it, the $1,000 deposit was due at the end of the week. That very night, she checked a lottery ticket she had purchased, and three out of the four bonus numbers were a match. How much is that worth?

“$1,000 exactly,” she says. “My aunt said, ‘You should’ve asked the gods for more,’” she laughs.

After completing all of her licencing in Abbotsford, she got her first job at Perimeter Aviation in Winnipeg. Though her family lineage almost obligated her to work for Air Canada, they were laying off workers at the time she was looking for a job, and WestJet was hiring.

“I thought ‘I might have to break the mould,’” says Kristin, who loves the culture at WestJet. In retrospect, Kristin broke the mould in more than one way – only five per cent of pilots at her airline are women, and of that, about two per cent are captains.

Feeling a little solitary early on in her career, she visited an annual conference for Women in Aviation in the United States, and was inspired to find 3,000 women like her in attendance.

So, in 2002, she decided to introduce a local chapter of the group to Winnipeg to bring the women who work in aviation together to share, give back, and create a support network within the community.

As president of the local chapter, Kristin has offered to represent Women in Aviation within the Manitoba Aviation Council, which currently lacks a female presence. She is also a board member of Women of Winnipeg, a school board member at her children’s nursery school where she frequently volunteers, and a committee member for the Out of the Blue Gala fundraiser for The Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada. Her community involvement has put her on the map as a role model among female pilots.

A woman who found her online once reached out to ask her advice about advancing to the next step in her career as a captain.

“Part of it was confidence,” says Kristin, who told her, “If you really, really know your stuff inside and out, you’ll have the confidence to make the decisions.

“I’m not a born leader,” admits Kristin. “I had to work at it, but I’ve evolved into (one).”