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Founder / COO Africa Bads
Holly Petitt always wanted to be a flight attendant. College came first, though, and soon after graduating, she began a six-year stint as a flight attendant for United Airlines. She loved her job, and would probably still be a flight attendant today, except for the ferry flight she took one day from San Francisco to Denver.
Sitting in the jump seat on the flight deck, she surveyed her surroundings: “In a moment of clarity, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
From the start, Petitt knew things would be tough. “I came home from that flight, and I told my husband I wanted to be a pilot. We had three kids under 3 years old at the time. He thought I was crazy,” she recalls. Petitt says they made a pact: She would go for it, but at no point would the family be sacrificed.
She kept her flight attendant job while she learned to fly. As she built her hours, she heard about a small regional carrier that hired pilots with fewer hours. She applied and was turned down, but she kept applying until she was hired in July 2000, a little less than two years after taking her first lesson. In 2004, Petitt joined Southwest Airlines, where she is first officer. Like the other pilots, she bids on her work schedule every month. “It’s easy to control my schedule,” she says. Though she lives with her family in Loveland, her flights are based out of Phoenix, so she commutes there on her own time and her own dime to get to work. She often flies there the night before she’s scheduled to report in. Her schedule can take her just about anywhere Southwest flies.
This month, she flies for three days and is home for four days. “It really is a neat schedule when you have kids. You’re home 24/7 for four days out of seven,” she comments. Petitt throws herself into being the closest thing to a stay-at-home mom on those days, balancing housework with coaching basketball and mentoring fifth-graders through the Adopt-a-Pilot program at her kids’ school. When she’s away, she gets the alone time that’s so elusive to many women. Petitt says it offers balance in her hectic life as a pilot, wife and mom. “I use my time alone to rejuvenate,” she says. Even though she makes it sound like a best-case scenario, Petitt is quick to admit that she suffers from her share of mom guilt every time she leaves for work. “I have to balance work with being a mom,” she says. Her biggest lesson learned: “Time flies. I’ve learned to live in the moment because you don’t get time back. I’ve learned to cherish my time with my kids and my time at work.”