Our 2020 ISA+21 conference looked and felt a little different. Planning a conference while facing the challenges that a world-wide pandemic has wreaked on our industry, was a crazy and unique experience. Each decision and update changed almost daily, and was carefully weighted. Ultimately the camaraderie and support made this conference a success. The virtual portion was new and uncharted territory, but we are so glad that members who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend, could be there virtually! 

Now that a couple of weeks have passed since we had  our conference in Louisville, I have had some time to reflect on my year and a half as the ISA+21 Chairwoman, now President. It has been a very busy, creative, frustrating, chaotic and rewarding time to be a member of the Board of Directors.  Like most things worth doing in life, as one reflects on the journey, it is oftentimes easy to forget the busy and the frustrating and the chaotic and be left mostly with the rewarding. This year and a half long journey for me as your President has been no different. There have been some big highs and some pretty big lows but, ultimately, when I reflect on this time, I am mostly left with a deep, at times overwhelming, sense of pride- not in myself, but in all of you!

This year and a half has been a very busy one for your Board of Directors. After a fantastic conference in Sydney,  we found ourselves facing some decisions regarding where we wanted to go as an organization.  We realized that we had an opportunity to expand the influence of ISA+21 at a time where other industry stakeholders were, finally, showing an interest in increasing the number of women in our profession and the industry as a whole.  Our interaction with Qantas in Sydney and the interest shown by the airline’s leadership to partner with us in this endeavor made us realize that we could have a seat at this very important table and become a more influential voice in helping to get more women on the flight deck. The question really was how to do that, without losing our identity as a group of whose primary focus has been supporting each other through camaraderie and travel and supporting aspiring female airline pilots through scholarship programs.  We realized that, for a mission to be successful, its goals need to spelled out, put into words in a mission statement. And “ISA+21 is the Global Voice to Inspire, Support and Advocate for female airline pilots” was born.  Everything we have done as part of what the Board calls our “Transformation project” and everything we do as an organization going forward will support our mission in one of the three pillars: Inspire, Support, Advocate. While most of the work on our Transformation, such as website, logo and merchandising design, was done behind the scenes at the Board level, we always knew that we would never be successful without the support of the membership.  The support and positive response has been amazing! We are so pleased at the feedback and engagement from the membership over the last couple of months as we have introduced our mission statement, our logo, our website, our merchandising ideas, social media campaigns.  What is even more exciting is the feedback we have gotten from you on our vision for the future of ISA+21, a vision that you clearly share!  Together, we will make this vision a reality, of that I have no doubt!

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, even in a time of transformation for ISA+21, some things never change. We had a record year for our Scholarship program, giving away $100,000 in Support monies to aspiring female airline pilots. We also, in spite of great challenges amid a volatile time in our industry and our world, had an annual conference with over 80 participants, either in person or virtually.  While it was heartbreaking that our non-US members were unable to attend in person, many attended virtually and almost one third of our in-person attendees were first time Conference attendees, many of whom had just received furlough notifications. As you all know, in addition to COVID disruptions to our Conference, we also were in Louisville during a period of civil unrest, which caused some last minute changes to some of our events.  After a cancellation of our Wednesday night event, the Brown hotel opened their restaurant to us, cooked us dinner and then allowed us back into our rooftop meeting space for what turned into an impromptu dance party. At one point, one of the servers who was delivering ice, said to me that he was sorry that our plans had been “ruined”. I looked around the room at our members, dancing and laughing, and immediately responded that our plans weren’t ruined, they just changed and that no matter where we are and no matter what we are doing, as long as we are together, we are having fun!! That, ladies, is the HEART AND  SOUL OF ISA+21! That is what make us great ; that is what will bring us continued success as an industry influencer.  That is who we are.

Tara Cook, President

Conference check in was quite the experience, complete with face masks and ironing!

We are very thankful for our sponsors, Aviation Retirement Strategies, Allied Pilots Association, and Air Line Pilots Association, who were there in support of our members.

We had 25 first time conference attendees!

The opening reception dinner, sponsored by UPS was held outside on the rooftop terrace.  This allowed for a little extra socially distanced “fun” with a derby hat contest (both in person and virtually!), an ISA+21 trivia contest, a Derby trivia contest, a red carpet photo booth, and many silent auction winners!  Participants from all of the globe could bid on items in our annual silent auction. At the conclusion, we raised over $8,000 for our scholarship program! Thank you to all our donors and bidders!

After the in-person and virtual roll call, the entire board presented their reports primarily focusing on the “transformation” labor of love we have been working on for the past year. We appreciate all the positive feedback, and we look forward to working to further our mission with all members as “the global voice to Inspire, Support, and Advocate for female airline pilots.”

For the first time, we had table sponsors for our luncheon. Thank you to all who sponsored a table!

We had 3 speakers during our luncheon.  Jessie Elliott gave an update on the ALPA Diversity Group. Linda Wackerman spoke on behalf of Allied Pilots Association.  Alex Tapia was the key note speaker as President of Aviation Retirement Strategies was also a conference sponsor.

Captain’s Club Coordinator, Katherine Wallace, introduced four presenters for for Captains Club inductees. Captain Brigitte Lakah was inducted by Cate Bute, Captain Paige (nee Stawicki) Rogers was inducted by her mother Beverley Bass, Captain Roberta Stanford was inducted by Karen Nathan, and Captain Jacqualyn Schamel was inducted by Beth Phelps.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the Emily Tribute Video.  It was shown to conference attendees in Louisville, and the final version can be viewed here, on our YouTube Channel.

You can’t visit Louisville without a trip to Churchill Downs! Our fantastic tour guides split our group into several smaller groups for an amazing tour of these incredible grounds. After our tour of the race grounds and the museum, the employees led us through a mock race and bidding activity, with actual winners of some fun prizes! 

Our afternoon activity included a tour of the Frazier Museum, where a woman’s suffrage exhibit was specially displayed. Our very own charter member Emily Howell Warner was featured in this exhibit as the first female airline pilot!

The day ended with a 2-hour boat cruise along the Ohio River on the beautiful Mary M. Miller steamboat, which we had completely to ourselves.

After the conference concluded on Thursday, those of us that stayed for the Friday tour saw many different places near Louisville and Lexington. We started the tour at Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which reopened in 2014 making whiskeys. We took a tour of the distillery grounds and learned their roots began in the Old Fitzgerald distillery-whose name is still prominently and proudly displayed on an old smoke stack behind the tasting room- and learned about the history of the five keys. The man who originally started the distillery said that the five keys represented the 5 tenants of whiskey making: grains, yeast, fermentation, distillation, and aging. He also had 5 actual keys that he would lock up the whole distillery. We saw the lab where they come up with new kinds of whiskey, learned the stages of distilling, walked into the distilling room with the large pots and condensers, and into one of the huge store houses stacked with 18,816 barrels in a rick-style system. We learned that this system allows the most open air to move around the barrels while accomplishing a large volume of alcohol per building. By stacking the casks vertically on their sides they can easily move them throughout the building where there are different temperatures and moisture content available to change the flavor of the whiskey. The final building on the tour was the old cooperage where they would repair the casks and use cattail stems to fix leaks in their barrels. In the tasting room we tried four different types of whiskey: Bulleit orange, Bulleit Rye, IW Harper, & Blade & Bow. There was a fifth whiskey available for an additional charge that some of the women did try. 
After Stitzel-Weller, we went to Claudia Sanders Dinner House. She was the wife of Colonel Sanders of the Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. We had a family style dinner with a choice of fried chicken, catfish, cod, pork chop, or salmon with all the fixings, some amazing biscuits, and a choice of pie for dessert. It was all delicious and gave a good sampling of Southern-style cooking.
We then proceeded to nearby Jeptha Creed Distillery. They specialize in different kinds of spirits like moonshine, bourbon, brandy, and vodka. We watched a short video about how their family-run business has been operating and to this day is still owned by the family. The group was feeling pretty good after our 4 samples of our own choosing from 13 options. 

We finished our afternoon by going to Mill Ridge Farm and saw where Grade 1 horses are born. Grade 1 are top tier horses for racing. We met our guide in the “Honeymoon Suite”- where the stud and mare are brought together- and she gave us a brief history of the farm and the owners. This kind of horse farm takes them from being babies up to “graduating high school”. They will spend their first 2 years at this farm with its large and spacious fields of green grass– plenty of room for horses to run and stretch their legs–before they move on to their next farms to be broken and taught how to race. We toured in the bus some of the fields which appeared to go on forever; the roads were planned so you never really saw any but just green fields everywhere, and we came up to a group of 1 and 2 year old foals. They shyly approached us and we fed them carrots by hand. They were super soft and very friendly.  Some ignored the carrots and just wanted a nice pat on the head. A group of curious, just-weaned foals came up in another field behind us and wanted to see what we were doing. So we had horses all around us at that point! One of the owners surprised us and came out to thank us for visiting the farm and he answered our questions about horse raising and what precautions they take to make race horses.  We finished the tour and the day by feeding peppermints to their stud and Grade 1 winner Oscar Performance. He was a large Thoroughbred with his own pen and a large stall. The adventure around the area gave me many good ideas to share with my family and was a great way to cap off the conference.

Tina Hartlaub