As a teenager, Linda Pauwels thought that her future lay in medicine. But life had other plans. 

“When I was 16-years-old, I wanted to become a doctor. [...] I had no idea about aviation and I was preparing to go to a medical faculty,” Linda says.

The aviator, who now works for American Airlines (A1G) (AAL), was born in San Pedro, Buenos Aires. She was six when her family moved to America. Life wasn’t easy but it taught her to be resilient, a crucial trait for any pilot. 

“My father passed away in 1969. We came to the US then, but I was sent back to Argentina to live with relatives when my mother could not care for me, and then returned to the US in the late 1970s,” she shares.

Inspired by her mother, who worked for TACA Airlines in Miami as a traffic and operations agent, Linda secured her first job at an airline in the early 1980s. 

“Once in summer I came to work in Miami, where my mother had a job in an airline, and it looked pretty cool for me,” she says. “So, I got a job with Wardair Canada, where I was responsible for taking flight plans to the pilots and doing passenger service. Visiting the cockpit  planted the idea that I would like to fly. in the cockpit. But everybody told me that it was a crazy idea since I didn’t have money. I've always been a relatively strong-willed person, so I took it as a challenge.”

Linda was only 21-years-old when started working for Southern Air Transport, a cargo company that flew routes for the military. Since then, she has been passionate about the aviation industry. She became a Captain on the Boeing 707 for Southern Air Transport, and at the time she was the youngest jet Captain in the world. Taking a left seat in the flight deck of a Boeing 707 jet, which was considered a large aircraft, was a phenomenon for a female pilot at the time.

Captain Linda earned a place in American Airlines’ (A1G) (AAL) history in 2000 when, aged 37, she became the first Latin female to captain a flight.

Captain Linda Pauwels

During subsequent decades, Linda has made great progress in her aviation career. Having started at American as a Flight Engineer on Boeing 727 jets, which were then in regular use, she progressed to the right seat and then the left seat of multiple aircraft, including Boeing 757, Boeing 767, Airbus A300, A320, MD88, Boeing 777 as well as Boeing 787 jets.

During her lengthy career, Linda has flown for thousands of hours and faced many challenging situations along the way. However, the global COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark. 

The pilot’s wealth of experience and years of service meant that she kept her job with the airline, but thousands of other aviators have not been so fortunate during Covid. Aware of how badly the pandemic  has affected the aviation sector and its employees, Linda has dedicated her free time to supporting the pilots’ community. As a result of an unprecedented global health crisis, Linda turned her hand to poetry.

Linda has always believed that creative endeavours are a great way to instill calmness, so she began writing haikus - a type of short form poetry originally from Japan. The new venture, she says, has undoubtedly helped her to deal with the emotional tension caused by COVID-19. 

After a few successful attempts at writing traditional Japanese haikus, Linda decided to collect her creative work in the form of a book. 

She says: “I haven't tried to write poetry ever before…[...] Pilots live in a world of structure where we fly by the rules. But poetry deconstructs some of that rigidity. By releasing the haiku book, I wanted to make a noble gesture for those pilots who were impacted by the COVID-19 virus.

“I started a poetry thread in our pilot forum in 2015. The majority of the pilots in that internal discussion forum were male pilots. At first, they didn’t like the poetry...but then they started contributing poems. We started sharing various famous poems, including Japanese poems, and poems from the Middle Ages, and writing some of them by ourselves as well.”

But when COVID-19 took hold, Linda decided to collate a book of poetry. She gathered the already written haikus and published a 59-page collection called Beyond Haiku: Pilots Write Poetry. The book includes her own haikus and those of 40 pilots of American Airlines (A1G) (AAL). The book was illustrated by a group of children, aged between six and 17, who all are children of pilots.

Linda says: “This book allows people on the other side of the cockpit doors to see that there is a softer side to the men and women who fly. It’s the first book of its kind, where the artwork is done by different pilots and their children.”

Captain Linda Pauwels

The poetry project has another purpose. The Captain decided to donate all proceeds from the book to the Allied Pilots Association Emergency Relief and Scholarship Fund in order to provide support for pilots and their families who were furloughed or lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Following the success of the book, Linda has decided to continue writing and will be releasing a second book of haikus. The next collection, Beyond Haiku: Women Pilots Write Poetry, will be created exclusively by female pilots and should be released later this year.

“The book will be full of empowering words for all women. I would like to spread the message for all women out there to be brave and fearlessly reveal their creative side. The new book encourages women who have overcome tremendous challenges to grow together and learn from each other's experiences.

“I believe that poetry helps pilots during these challenging times. I think that the ability to express oneself and to tap into the artistic side, especially for a stressful technical profession, is an element of wellness that should be considered. Now, not everyone will love it, not everyone will be able to do it. But for those who are inclined, it does provide benefits.”