An all-women cockpit crew made history in January of 2021, by flying the world's longest air route. Now, Air India Captain Zoya Agarwal, who commanded this San Francisco to Bengaluru flight, spoke to Humans of Bombay of the childhood dream of becoming her pilot, how she worked for it and made history as the first woman ever to fly across opposite poles.
Zoya says, "In the 90s, growing up as a girl in a lower middle class family meant that you weren't allowed to dream beyond your means.” But at the mere age of 8, she knew she wanted to become a pilot. But she didn’t tell her parents of her dream yet - especially when she heard her mother saying, Zoya would have to be married off in a nice family when she grows up. However, Ms. Agarwal says she couldn’t help but tell them after her 10th grade. Her mother began to crying, and her father was worried of the expenses that pilot training requires.
She took up Science in Class 11 & 12. "I excelled in my 12th boards and took up Physics for graduation," says Ms Agarwal. But she also applied for the aviation course which she paid for herself with the money she saved up.
For 3 years, Zoya Agarwal would attend college and then go to her aviation course at the opposite area of the city. She’d reach home around 10 pm only to then complete her assignments at that time in the night.
"When I topped college, I went to Papa and asked, 'Now, will you allow me to pursue my dream?' Cautiously, her father agreed to take a loan to pay for her course. Ms. Agarwal put her heart and soul into it & excelled at it.
Even so, she waited 2 years for a job opportunity to show up, until one finally came in. Air India had vacancy for 7 pilots. Ms. Agarwal competed against 3,000 others and emerged with an offer letter with her. But it wasn't as straightforward as it seemed. Ms Agarwal remembers that four days before her interview round, her father suffered from a heart attack.
Only after he convinced her to, did she agree upon going Mumbai & give her exam. She said, "There, I cleared all rounds and joined Air India as a First Officer! In 2004, I flew my first flight to Dubai-I'd finally touched the stars!"
Zoya paid off her loans her father took & gifted diamond earrings to her mother. In the pandemic, she volunteered to go on rescue operations. At the start of his year, Zoya commanded flight AI176, covering the longest aerial distance between San Francisco & Bengaluru. She flew over the North Pole, taking the Atlantic route to Bengaluru. Her words were, "I led the first all-women cockpit to fly the world's longest air route. On 9th January 2021, I became the 1st woman in the world to fly across opposite poles.”
Ever since this flight, she also got letters from women she inspired. On Facebook, the post documenting her journey has got close to 10K reactions and has also been commented on & shared by many. The comments section is filled with people expressing how much she inspired them.
Zoya says that "In all these years, nothing has come easy to me. But whenever I felt stuck, 8 year old Zoya's dream flashed before my eyes - she had the courage to follow her heart and that's how I want to be, all my life.”
This was the inspiring story of pilot Zoya Agarwal who chased her dreams and didn’t back off until she achieved them. If you know of any such inspiring individual, tell us in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, do visit the space for more!