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For an Indian mother-daughter, a flight of a lifetime

A special mother-daughter moment in the skies also points to the rise in the number of women in Indian aviation

Air hostess Pooja Chinchankar on her last flight with her daughter and Air India's First officer Ashrrita Chinchankar
Air hostess Pooja Chinchankar on her last flight with her daughter and Air India's First officer Ashrrita Chinchankar

For two women on Air India Flight AI604, a roughly two-hour journey from Bengaluru to Mumbai, was a momentous one. First officer Ashrrita Chinchankar, 31, shared the flight with her mother Pooja Chinchankar, an air hostess who worked with the airline for more than three decades and was making her final flight before retirement.

On Tuesday, Ashrrita tweeted her anticipation before the special flight, along with an image of her mother. The tweet went viral with thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets , including one from former Minister of Civil Aviation & Heavy Industries Praful Patel. Ashrrita, a former media studies student, decided on a career in aviation after it was suggested by her mother, and went on to fulfill her dream of being piloted by her daughter on her retirement flight. “It was a special day, so I had put in a request to be in the same flight," says Ashrrita. “Both of us have worked hard for this day. Even though I got my license in 2008, I only started flying 2016 because the market was very bad and there were no openings."

After the flight, Ashrrita also shared a video clip of her mother walking down the aisle to an outpouring of cheers and applause from passengers. “[On the flight] I was pampered. None of the cabin crew members allowed me to work," says 58-year-old Pooja, who also notes significant changes in the industry from the time she joined it in 1980. “During our time it was considered ‘abnormal’ for a woman to become a pilot. In fact, Soudamini Deshmukh became the first female commander in [Indian] aviation only in 1988. A lot has changed since then—there are equal opportunities for women in this field now."

Also read: Avani Chaturvedi, India’s first female fighter pilot, has her eyes on the sky

Priyanka Khanna, Associate Fashion Features Director at Vogue India, also remembers the early years of female flight attendants in the country, a time when the profession was both galmourous and widely coveted. “My mum worked [with Air India] for nearly eight years in the 1970s. They really were India’s first fashion influencers. My mum did a shoot for the airline in Udaipur, where her make-up was done by Elizabeth Arden."

Seema Verma, dean of aviation at Banasthali Vidyapith, Jaipur, which offers an aviation program to women, notes that there has been a recent spike in the number of young girls opting to become pilots. “Earlier, our program had a maximum number of 10 girls every year. This year, however, there has been an exponential increase—we have 35 students choosing our B.Sc Aviation course." This could possibly be due to the number of female role models in the field of aviation today, including Aavni Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh, who became the country’s first female fighter pilots in 2016.

Last year, Air India created history for women in aviation on two occasions—Anny Divya, a 30-year-old pilot from Vijayawada, became the world’s youngest female commander of a Boeing 777 aircraft; and the airline applied for a Guinness World Record after an all-female crew operated the flight from San Francisco to New Delhi on International Women's Day. According to data from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots report published last year, 12% of commercial pilots in India are female, which is higher than the global average. In a few days, a pair of young women in their early 20s, Arohi Pandit and Keithair Misquitta from Mumbai, will attempt to circumnavigate the globe within 90 days in a light sport aircraft (LSA) for the first time. If successful, they will make another indelible mark as women in the history of Indian aviation.

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